Many adults have some teeth that are sensitive to changes in temperature. This can happen for a variety of reasons and for most is just an annoying thing you get used to. I am often asked at work, “How can I do teeth whitening for sensitive teeth?”. The real concern here is that teeth will get even more sensitive after whitening.

If you have spoken to someone that has whitened their teeth before, there is a good chance they spoke about having sensitive teeth after the process. This prospect can be terrifying if you already have sensitive teeth to start.

There is good reason to be concerned…sensitivity to temperature is the most common side effect of teeth whitening. I have good news for you – it is only temporary!

This means that your teeth may become slightly more sensitive if you whiten, but they will return to normal 1-2 weeks after you stop whitening.

The whitening process opens up the ‘pores’ in the teeth in order to lighten the colour, this allows temperature changes to be felt more readily by your teeth. Over time, those pores close and your bright white teeth will be back to normal.

There are a few strategies you can employ to minimize the amount of tooth sensitivity you feel. Let’s review a few strategies for teeth whitening for sensitive teeth.


Crest Whitestrips

I always start here as these are still my favorite products in the marketplace today. As you know, (or can learn here) there are a ton of offerings from Crest.

There is one product (gentle routine) geared to those that have sensitive teeth already…you know who you are. The thought of ice-cold water touching those front teeth makes you cringe!

Not everyone starts with sensitive teeth…many people will get sensitive teeth after whitening.

The various whitestrips kits state that you should use them for “X” number of days to get the best results. This statement implies that they must be consecutive days. However, it does not need to be used that way.

One way to avoid sensitivity is to use the whitestrips every other day or even every third day. Your teeth will still whiten, just a little more slowly. Delaying gratification will likely be worth it if pain-free teeth are the goal.

I have seen some recommendations to wear the whitestrips for less time each day but still do consecutive days to prevent sensitivity. I would not recommend this as the amount of time prescribed on the product is what is needed to be effective. Use them for the full recommended time and instead, do not use them on consecutive days.


All Gel Whitening Kits – With and Without Lights

Similar to the above mentioned Crest Whitestrips, all at-home gel whitening kits can be used differently to reduce sensitivity.

If you have a gel kit that includes an LED light, you may want to first try it without employing the light. That fancy light in the kit is meant to accelerate the whitening process, and as you can likely imagine, that will increase sensitivity for most.

I remember when dental office Zoom whitening first came to my office (when I was practicing as a general dentist) and I wanted to try it right away. Wowza was that an experience…I lay there for an hour while zingers shot through my already sensitive teeth. I have not done a dental office whitening treatment since then as I am terrified I will feel that pain again.

At-home whitening kits with lights are imitating the Zoom process. That intensity is meant to get you instant results…but it is at a cost. If your teeth get as white as you want them without using the light, you may not feel as sensitive.

You can also try with the light -but I would caution you to not use it every day. Every second or third day – maybe even once a week – will still whiten your teeth. For the sake of enjoying all things frozen…take your time!


Whitening Toothpastes

If surface stain is the reason you want to whiten your teeth, whitening toothpastes are the way to go. Fortunately, if you suffer from sensitive teeth, this method will increase your sensitivity the least.

Whitening toothpastes do not open up the pores in your teeth like the processes above so the resultant sensitivity does not occur in the same way. That being said, your teeth can become more sensitive after using a whitening toothpaste.

The reason for that is when you add a more abrasive product to your dental hygiene routine, you will be removing more stain, plaque and tartar from your tooth surfaces. Taking away this thin layer that has been covering your teeth will give cold food and drinks better access to the gumline (where top of tooth meets root).

The gumline is where you will feel temperature changes (especially if you have some gum recession). To reduce this sensitivity and prevent abrasive products from wearing away too much tooth surface, you may want to consider using a whitening toothpaste in combination with a non-whitening toothpaste.

For example, you could brush with a whitening toothpaste every night before bed and use a regular toothpaste in the morning. Alternatively, you could brush with a whitening toothpaste on the weekends and use a regular toothpaste during the week. I think you get the point – figure out what feels best for your teeth.


Other Ways To Reduce Tooth Sensitivity

One strategy to combat teeth sensitivity related to teeth whitening is to try to reduce your teeth sensitivity in general. There are several things you can try at home to improve your ability to handle temperature changes in the mouth.

  • Use a soft (even better is extra soft) bristled toothbrush. Hard bristled brushes can increase gum recession which will make sensitivity worse.
  • Avoid highly acidic foods. Pop and citrus fruits can erode the outer layer of your teeth making them more sensitive.
  • Use a bite splint or night-guard if you clench or grind your teeth at night. Clenchers and grinders have increased tooth wear and gum recession resulting in sensitive teeth.
  • Use a fluoride rinse before bed. Mouthwashes that have a high concentration of fluoride will strengthen the outer layer of your teeth and make them less sensitive.
  • Use a toothpaste made for sensitive teeth. These toothpastes help to seal off those pores thus reducing sensitivity.

You can still safely whiten your teeth if they are sensitive…it may take a little longer, but it can be done. I hope that this article has provided some tips and tricks you can apply right away.

Good luck on your teeth whitening journey!

Dr. Jen


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