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Can Teeth Whitening Gel Be Used on Sensitive Teeth?

April 24th, 2024 | 4 min read

By NYC Smile Design

person holding their face due to sensitive teeth

Teeth whitening is a sought-after cosmetic dental procedure, but those with sensitive teeth often worry about its effects. 

At NYC Smile Design, Dr. Elisa Mello and Dr. Ramin Tabib bring years of experience in cosmetic dentistry, including teeth whitening for patients with sensitive teeth. Their expertise ensures that each patient's concerns are addressed with care and precision, guiding them through the whitening process comfortably and effectively.

This blog delves into whether teeth whitening gel is suitable for people with sensitive teeth, aiming to provide valuable insights for informed decision-making.

Understanding Teeth Sensitivity

Teeth sensitivity, or dentin hypersensitivity, arises when the protective enamel layer on teeth has thinned out or has eroded, revealing the softer dentin beneath. Because dentin has microscopic tubules with nerve endings that lead to the tooth's nerve center, exposure to certain stimuli can provoke sharp, often severe pain when the protective enamel is too thin or eroded completely. These changes to the enamel can result from various factors, such as aggressive brushing that wears off the enamel, gum recession exposing the tooth root, dental erosion due to acidic foods and beverages, or grinding and clenching teeth which can wear down enamel and also cause it to break off around the gumline where it is thinnest.

Moreover, dental procedures like fillings, crowns, or teeth whitening can temporarily heighten tooth sensitivity. It's not just external factors; internal issues like decay, cracked teeth, or gum disease can lead to similar discomfort. Understanding the specific cause of sensitivity is vital for effective treatment. This knowledge helps in selecting dental care products and procedures that mitigate sensitivity rather than exacerbate it, ensuring that individuals can continue with their daily routines comfortably while pursuing dental health and aesthetics.

Person holding their mouth due to teeth sensitivity

Teeth Whitening Gels and Sensitivity

Teeth whitening gels and sensitivity often go hand in hand, especially for individuals with sensitive teeth. These gels primarily contain peroxide-based bleaching agents, like hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which penetrate the tooth enamel to break down and oxidize surface stains. However, this process can sometimes exacerbate tooth sensitivity by stimulating the nerve endings in the dentin tubules producing pain and sensitivity. The intensity of the reaction largely depends on the concentration of the peroxide in the gel, the duration of the whitening sessions, and the individual's inherent dental sensitivity.

For those with sensitive teeth, the use of teeth-whitening gels can lead to discomfort or a noticeable increase in sensitivity more than someone who does not normally have sensitive teeth. This is particularly true if the bleaching agent is in high concentration or if the gel is applied too frequently or left on the teeth for too long.

Moreover, individuals with pre-existing dental issues like gum recession, enamel erosion, or microscopic cracks in their teeth may find that whitening gels intensify their sensitivity. In such cases, the bleaching agent can more easily access the dentin or tooth nerve, leading to heightened sensitivity or pain during and after the whitening treatment.

Teeth whitening trays and gel

Given these factors, it's crucial for individuals with sensitive teeth to approach teeth whitening with caution, preferably under the guidance of a dental professional who can recommend suitable products and treatments. Lower-concentration peroxide gels, shorter application times, or specially formulated desensitizing whitening products may be advised to minimize discomfort while still achieving the desired whitening effect.

Choosing the Right Whitening Gel for Sensitive Teeth

When choosing the right whitening gel for sensitive teeth, it’s vital to opt for products specifically formulated to minimize discomfort while effectively whitening the teeth. Whitening gels with lower peroxide concentrations are often recommended as they are less likely to cause sensitivity. Additionally, gels that incorporate desensitizing agents such as potassium nitrate and fluoride can be beneficial, as they help to alleviate sensitivity by blocking the pathways that lead to the tooth's nerves.

Opalescence has a range of whitening gels that include options for sensitive teeth, with formulations that contain added fluoride and potassium nitrate for comfort during the whitening process. Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine is another product designed for teeth sensitive to whitening, offering a gentle yet effective solution to achieve a brighter smile without discomfort.

When searching for the ideal whitening gel, it’s important to read labels and product descriptions carefully to ensure they match your sensitivity needs. Consulting with a dental professional before starting any whitening treatment is also advisable, as they can recommend products that align with your specific dental health requirements and whitening goals.

Whitening Toothpaste

Brands like Sensodyne, known for their sensitive toothpaste, also offer whitening products designed for sensitive teeth. These products typically contain lower levels of bleaching agents and are infused with compounds that help reduce sensitivity. Another brand to consider is Colgate’s Sensitive Pro-Relief Whitening toothpaste, which not only aims to whiten the teeth but also provides relief from sensitivity.

Precautions and Tips for Whitening with Sensitive Teeth

When considering teeth whitening with sensitive teeth, taking precautions and following specific tips can help minimize discomfort:

  • Use Desensitizing Toothpaste: Start using desensitizing toothpaste several weeks before beginning the whitening treatment. Continue its use during and after the process to help reduce sensitivity.
  • Avoid Extreme-Temperature Foods and Beverages: Hot and cold items can trigger sensitivity. It’s best to avoid these extremes during and immediately after the whitening treatment period.
  • Follow Product Instructions Carefully: Adhere strictly to the guidelines provided with the whitening product. Overuse or incorrect application can increase sensitivity and potentially harm your teeth.
  • Consult with a Dental Professional: A dentist can assess your oral health and recommend the most suitable whitening method for your sensitive teeth. They might also offer professional treatments that are tailored to reduce sensitivity.
  • These include special desensitizing gels to use before during and after whitening treatment or special desensitizers that can be applied to teeth prior to whitening treatment.
  • Opt for Shorter Treatment Times: If using home whitening kits, consider using them for shorter periods than recommended if you experience sensitivity, or choose products specifically designed for sensitive teeth.
  • Consider a Gradual Whitening Approach: Instead of aiming for the quickest results, gradual whitening can be less shocking to sensitive teeth, reducing potential discomfort.
  • Use a Soft-Bristled Toothbrush: Reduce mechanical irritation to your teeth and gums by using a soft-bristled toothbrush, and avoid aggressive brushing.
  • Rinse with Fluoride Mouthwash: A fluoride mouthwash can help remineralize your teeth and lessen sensitivity after whitening treatments.
  • Wait Before Brushing: After consuming acidic foods or beverages, wait at least 30 minutes before brushing to avoid additional enamel wear.

By integrating these tips into your teeth whitening routine, you can better manage sensitivity and achieve a brighter smile with less discomfort.

Professional Whitening Options for Sensitive Teeth

Professional whitening treatments for sensitive teeth often include custom-fit trays for even gel application and reduced gum exposure, along with the use of milder bleaching agents. Dentists, like those at NYC Smile Design, can provide treatments that balance effectiveness with patient comfort.

Choosing Your Whitening Journey

While teeth whitening is feasible for those with sensitive teeth, choosing the right product and following professional advice are key to a pain-free experience. Proper selection and professional guidance are crucial for achieving a brighter smile safely.

If you have sensitive teeth and are considering teeth whitening, schedule a consultation with NYC Smile Design. Our team can offer personalized advice and treatment options that cater to your comfort and dental health needs.