Why does teeth whitening make your teeth sensitive?
Teeth are like an M&M. They have a hard outer layer called the enamel and a softer layer inside called the dentin. Dentin has nerves. Exposed dentin is sensitive. Tooth whitening temporarily makes enamel more permeable microscopically exposing dentin.
Also teeth whitening trays can put orthodontic forces on your teeth making teeth sensitive. If you have ever worn braces, you know that it made your teeth sore. Whitening trays do not move teeth, bu they do apply pressure. That pressure can make teeth sore.
Whitening gels can cause chemical burns on gums. If a tray is poorly fabricated it will allow the whitening gel to leak out and onto the gums causing irritation.
The good news is that many of these causes of tooth whitening sensitivity are preventable, treatable, and reversible.
How do I prevent or treat tooth whitening sensitivity?
The first thing is to treat any tooth sensitivity prior to beginning whitening. If your teeth are already sensitive, tooth whitening will likely make it worse. Your dentist can help to identify why your teeth are sensitive and treat them accordingly. Common causes include exposed dentin from gum recession or tooth wear, cavities, and clenching or grinding your teeth.
2 of the causes of whitening sensitivity, pressure from the whitening tray and gum irritation, are caused by a poorly fitting tray. Making a well fitting tray requires an accurate impression and model, and attention to detail in the fabrication process. An over-the-counter do-it-yourself tray will whiten your teeth, but you can expect more sensitivity because of the less than perfect fit.
Tooth whitening will temporarily cause microscopic exposed dentin. This is reversible. Once you stop whitening the sensitivity will go away. But while whitening you can use these strategies to alleviate sensitivity:
- a NSAID medication like ibuprofen taken prior to each whitening session will help
- consider wearing your trays for a shorter period of time or using a lower concentration of whitening gel
- use a desensitizing toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate, Sensodyne is an example
- use a dentist dispensed product like MI paste or others to block exposed dentin between whitening procedures
Talk to your Dentist
Most of the sensitivity caused by tooth whitening is preventable and treatable. Your dentist should be able to help guide you through the tooth whitening process comfortably.