Young woman getting her teeth whitened with text on image: "Does teeth whitening make your teeth sensitive?"

Looking to brighten up your smile? If you are considering teeth whitening, you may have concerns about sensitivity. You’re probably wondering – does teeth whitening make your teeth more sensitive?

The quick answer:

Yes, some people experience temporary sensitivity after teeth whitening.

Why is this? And should you be worried?

Let’s dive in.

Why does teeth whitening make your teeth sensitive?

Think of your teeth like an M&M candy. They have a hard outer layer called the enamel, and a softer inner layer known as the dentin.

The dentin layer has nerves, and when exposed, you experience sensitivity.

In order to remove deep stains and brighten your teeth, whitening temporarily makes the enamel slightly more permeable (meaning things can pass through it).

This increase in permeability means the dentin gets exposed at a microscopic level, which can trigger the nerves and cause sensitivity pain.

Another reason teeth whitening can cause pain:

Sometimes the whitening trays can apply slight forces on your teeth during the procedure, making them feel sore. If you’ve ever worn braces, you probably are familiar with this sensation!

Lastly, if a tray is poorly fabricated, it may allow the whitening gel to leak out, which can irritate sensitive gums.

If all this sounds scary, we’re here to put your fears at ease.

Each of these causes of tooth whitening sensitivity is preventable, treatable, and reversible.

Nerve pain is temporary and will go away within a few days as the enamel naturally restores itself.

As for the whitening trays, they only apply minor pressure for a very brief period, not enough to move or harm your teeth. Any soreness will fade away in a day or two.

Gum irritation is preventable with a properly fit tray.

Still worried? We get it.

Read on to learn how you can still get a beautiful white smile without the pain!

How do I prevent or treat sensitivity from teeth whitening?

Proactivity is key to staying pain-free

You can actually take steps BEFORE your whitening procedure to minimize the pain!

This is especially important if you already have sensitive teeth since whitening will likely make it worse.

Your dentist can help identify why your teeth are sensitive and treat them accordingly. Common causes include exposed dentin from gum recession, tooth wear, cavities, and clenching or grinding your teeth.

Next, make sure you are using a well-fitting tray.

This requires an accurate impression and model of your teeth, as well as attention to detail in the fabrication process.

Over-the-counter trays used to DIY teeth whitening at home typically have generic sizing, meaning they are less likely to be a great fit. Professional versions provided by your dentist are often higher quality and offer better fit options, as well as analysis by a trained dental professional.

For these reasons, you are more likely to experience soreness from a poor-fitting over-the-counter tray.

You may not be able to completely prevent sensitivity caused by exposed dentin, but you can use these strategies to alleviate pain:

  • Take an NSAID medication like ibuprofen prior to each whitening session.
  • Consider wearing your trays for a shorter period or using a lower concentration of whitening gel.
  • Use a desensitizing toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate, such as Sensodyne.
  • Use a dentist dispensed product, such as MI paste…Opens in new window to MI Paste homepage…, to block exposed dentin between whitening procedures.

Talk to your dentist

Don’t let sensitivity concerns stop you from getting the smile of your dreams!

We all know that whitening your teeth can boost your self-confidence and make you feel great.

With these tips in mind, the process doesn’t have to hurt!

If you do experience pain, remember that while it can be uncomfortable, it doesn’t cause any permanent damage to your teeth and typically doesn’t last for very long. Teeth whitening is perfectly safe when performed properly.

The Salt Lake City dentists at Legacy Dental offer multiple professional teeth whitening services, including microabrasion, in-office bleaching, and at-home bleaching kits. We also offer assistance and advice for over-the-counter methods if you decide to try that route.

We proudly serve Salt Lake City, UT and surrounding communities in Salt Lake County, Millcreek, East Millcreek, Holladay, Sugarhouse, Murray, Midvale, South Salt Lake, Sandy, Taylorsville, West Jordan, South Jordan, Riverton, and Herriman.

Contact our office today to give your smile a boost with professional teeth whitening!

Call Now: (801) 278-4223

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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in February 2010 and has been completely revamped for comprehensiveness and timeliness.