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Sensitive teeth and tooth whitening

Tooth sensitivity is an annoying syndrome commonly characterized by mild to severe discomfort when eating very cold or hot foods or beverages.

While many things can cause your teeth to become sensitive, a few people experience some degree of temporary tooth sensitivity while doing a home teeth whitening program or for a few days following professional whitening treatments. This is a temporary condition which will go away soon after the whitening treatments are finished, and is more common in people whose teeth are sensitive to begin with.

What causes sensitive teeth?

In general, tooth sensitivity occurs when the dentin and small nerve endings in the root your tooth become exposed. A couple of common causes of tooth sensitivity are:

  • Brushing too firmly or with too hard a toothbrush - brushing too vigorously can push your gums back to expose the delicate root of your tooth. It is estimated that at least one out of every two people brushes their teeth with too much pressure!

  • Receding gums caused by poor oral hygeine - causing gingivitis and peridontal disease.

  • Eating a lot of acidic foods and beverages - like lemons, soda, citrus fruits or tomatoes.

  • Grinding or clenching your teeth

  • Tooth whitening (temporary sensitivity) - a small percentage of people who undergo professional or over-the-counter teeth whitening will experience temporary tooth sensitivity due to irritation from peroxide.

What can I do about it?

As with any medical condition, we recommend you first consult with your dentist or doctor. However:

  • If tooth sensitivity is due to daily teeth whitening, take a break for a couple days. If you are experiencing a lot of discomfort, discontinue use and talk to your dentist.

  • Rinsing with slightly warm water after eating is a home remedy for tooth sensitivity which may help reduce pain.

  • Avoid highly acidic foods and beverages

  • Flouride mouthwashes - provide relief in some people.

  • Be gentle on your teeth - use a softer bristled toothbrush and brush your teeth horizontally (side-to-side) instead of vertically (up and down). Brushing up and down can eventually push your gums back from the base of your teeth, exposing sensitive areas.

  • Try a toothpaste with ingredients which reduce tooth sensitivity, like Sensodyne® or the GoSmile toothpastes. The active ingredient to look for is potassium nitrate. Strontium chloride is another active ingredient in some toothpastes - it bonds with saliva to help protect the tooth root. (For more information, see our page on tooth whitening ingredients)

  • If you are experiencing discomfort after professional whitening, most people find relief from over-the-counter painkillers, but definitely give your dentist a call and ask about it.

  • If you suffer from chronic sensitive tooth discomfort your dentist may prescribe special mouth rinses or substances to rub on your teeth. They can also apply a bonding agent to protect the tooth roots. In severe cases, a periodontist may opt to do a tissue graft on your gums to cover the exposed root.

"But I still want to whiten my teeth !"

If you have sensitive teeth, or have experienced moderate to severe discomfort during whitening treatments, we strongly advise you speak to your dentist. However, if you just experienced mild, temporary sensitivity from using a particular product, you may want to try one of the following:

  • Use a desensitizing toothpaste for about two weeks before you start whitening.

  • Try a product with a lower amounts of peroxide. Peroxide is what causes sensitivity during whitening. Pay attention to the type of peroxide - hydrogen peroxide is stronger than carbamide peroxide (a solution which contains hydrogen peroxide), 3% hydrogen peroxide is about equal to 10% carbamide peroxide. Lower concentrations of peroxide will just take a little longer to work.

    Zoom Whitening Z is a gel whitener especially forumlated for sensitive teeth. It contains potassium nitrate and flouride to help prevent and combat tooth sensitivity and is available in two strengths - 6% or 4% hydrogen peroxide (both very low amounts, compared to other products). It is not sold with trays, but can be used with any reusable, custom trays you may already have.

  • Instead of using whitening strips daily or twice a day, use them less frequently for a longer period of time.

  • Avoid getting whitening gels, strips or paint-on products in contact with your gums.

  • Stick to very gentle whitening products such as mouth rinses and toothpastes. The results won't be as dramatic but some whitening will occur.

More Information:

Tooth Whitening Active Ingredients
Teeth whitening information

Disclaimer - this information is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for or provide medical care or advice. If you have a medical condition or question, you should consult with your dentist, doctor or other licensed medical professional.