Dentistry
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Updated on August 3, 2022

Sensitive Teeth or Tooth Pain After Whitening

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What Causes Post-Whitening Tooth Sensitivity?

Many people find that their teeth are more sensitive after teeth whitening treatment. This sensitivity is often temporary, only lasting a few days. In some cases, it may persist for longer.

Both at-home and in-office tooth-whitening treatments commonly contain hydrogen peroxide. As a bleaching agent, hydrogen peroxide works by breaking down stain-causing chemicals in or on your teeth.

Hydrogen peroxide may make your teeth more sensitive by penetrating your enamel and dentin, reaching all the way to the pulp within your teeth.1 This pulp contains many sensitive nerve endings.

Whitening toothpaste may remove tooth stains by abrasion. Excessively abrasive products may wear away enamel, resulting in more sensitivity.

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Why are Some People More Prone to Tooth Sensitivity?

Your teeth have a hard outer layer of enamel that protects the more sensitive dentin and pulp within. A receding gum line can expose the roots of your teeth, which are also sensitive.

Over time, enamel wears down and can’t be restored.

The following can contribute to enamel deterioration:

  • Consuming acidic foods and drinks
  • Brushing your teeth too aggressively
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Medical issues that cause vomiting, like bulimia

In the long term, enamel wear is inevitable. For some people, even a lifetime of normal oral hygiene may be enough to make their teeth more sensitive over time.2

How to Prevent Tooth Sensitivity After Whitening

You can mitigate or prevent post-whitening sensitivity by being mindful of the treatment you use and what you do before and after using it. 

Here are five ways to make whitening easier on your teeth:

1. Be Careful With Peroxide (Bleaching) Whitening Products

Many whitening treatments use hydrogen peroxide to bleach your teeth. This includes products that use carbamide peroxide, which releases free hydrogen peroxide when it dissolves in water.3

If you’re prone to sensitivity, you may want to look for products that contain lower peroxide levels.

Be careful not to use peroxide-containing whitening treatments too often. Frequent use may contribute to increased sensitivity.4

When applying at-home treatments, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t leave whitening products on your teeth longer than necessary.

2. Use Peroxide-Free Whitening Products

Peroxide-free whitening products are designed to reduce and prevent tooth sensitivity.

Hismile, an Australian teeth-whitening brand, offers a teeth whitening kit that uses PAP, an alternative to hydrogen peroxide. It also contains ingredients, including hydroxyapatite (HAp), that are meant to desensitize and remineralize teeth.

Hydroxyapatite is a naturally occurring mineral that makes up the majority of your tooth enamel.5 Whitening products that contain hydroxyapatite can reduce sensitivity during and after whitening.6, 7

3. Try Products for Sensitive Teeth

Many oral care products are specifically designed to reduce tooth sensitivity.

Toothpastes, mouthwashes, and gels for sensitive teeth often contain ingredients like HAp, strontium, or arginine. These help seal exposed dentin and support enamel remineralization.5, 8

These products may also contain potassium salts (citrate, nitrate, chloride, oxalate), which calm the nerves in teeth.9

Toothpastes meant for sensitive teeth tend to lack highly abrasive ingredients that may be present in other toothpastes.10 Lastly, using a soft-bristled toothbrush also reduces tooth sensitivity because they are gentle on enamel.10

4. Avoid Irritating Foods

For the first few days after using a whitening treatment, avoid foods and drinks that are likely to irritate your teeth. For example, cut back on or eliminate:10, 11

  • Anything too hot or cold
  • Acidic foods and drinks, such as tea, coffee, wine, soda, and citrus fruits
  • Sugary foods and drinks that can feed acid-producing bacteria
  • Foods that stain your teeth like red sauce, blueberries, and blackberries
  • Tobacco products

Limit consuming highly acidic drinks leading up to your whitening treatment, as they may make your teeth more sensitive.

As your tooth sensitivity returns to normal, you can begin to reintroduce hot, cold, and other potentially irritating foods.

5. Talk to Your Dentist

If you’re concerned about the possible adverse effects of tooth whitening, talk to your dentist. They can answer any questions and educate you on professional in-office whitening options.

One benefit of in-office whitening treatments is that a dental professional can supervise the process. This can prevent you from misusing the treatment or applying it for too long.3

If you choose to use an at-home whitening treatment, still discuss it with your dentist. They know your dental history and will be able to help you make the right choice.

When Should You Worry About Post-Whitening Sensitivity?

Even if your teeth remain sensitive for more than a few days after whitening, you may not have anything to worry about. Post-whitening sensitivity has been reported to last as long as 39 days.12

Sensitive teeth are common and don’t usually warrant serious concern. But they can affect quality of life in some cases.5 You should contact your dentist if you:

  • Experience post-whitening sensitivity that persists for weeks
  • Feel like your teeth are so sensitive that they affect your normal daily activities 
  • Are concerned you may have misused a whitening product

Summary

Increased tooth sensitivity after at-home or in-office whitening treatment is common and generally temporary.

Many people experience sensitivity after using whitening treatments that contain hydrogen peroxide. Fortunately, there are alternatives, such as the PAP in Hismile’s teeth whitening kit.

Various ingredients in whitening products and other oral care products can support teeth  desensitization and remineralization.

Take it easy on your teeth while they’re sensitive by avoiding especially hot, cold, or acidic foods.

Post-whitening tooth sensitivity often subsides after a few days. But if you have concerns about a whitening treatment, or tooth sensitivity is affecting your daily life, contact your dentist.

12 Sources Cited
Last updated on August 3, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Thitinanthapan, W et al. “In vitro penetration of the pulp chamber by three brands of carbamide peroxide.Journal of esthetic dentistry vol. 11,5 : 259-64. doi:10.1111/j.1708-8240.1999.tb00407.x
  2. Markowitz, Kenneth. "A new treatment alternative for sensitive teeth: A desensitizing oral rinse." Journal of Dentistry vol. 41,1 : S1-S11. doi:10.1016/j.dent.2012.09.007
  3. Carey, Clifton M. “Tooth whitening: what we now know.The journal of evidence-based dental practice vol. 14 Suppl : 70-6. doi:10.1016/j.jebdp.2014.02.006
  4. de Freitas, Maiara R. et al. "Effectiveness and Adverse Effects of Over-the-Counter Whitening Products on Dental Tissues." Front. Dent. Med vol. 2 . https://doi.org/10.3389/fdmed.2021.687507
  5. Epple, Matthias et al. “A Critical Review of Modern Concepts for Teeth Whitening.” Dentistry journal vol. 7,3 79. 1 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3390/dj7030079
  6. Browning, William D et al. “Effect of a nano-hydroxyapatite paste on bleaching-related tooth sensitivity.Journal of esthetic and restorative dentistry : official publication of the American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry ... [et al.] vol. 24,4 : 268-76. doi:10.1111/j.1708-8240.2011.00437.x
  7. Vano, M et al. “Tooth bleaching with hydrogen peroxide and nano-hydroxyapatite: a 9-month follow-up randomized clinical trial.International journal of dental hygiene vol. 13,4 : 301-7. doi:10.1111/idh.12123
  8. Clark, Danielle and Liran Levin. "Non-surgical management of tooth hypersensitivity." International Dental Journal, vol.66,5 , 249-256. doi:10.1111/idj.12247
  9. Orchardson, R, and D G Gillam. “The efficacy of potassium salts as agents for treating dentin hypersensitivity.Journal of orofacial pain vol. 14,1 : 9-19.
  10. Miglani, Sanjay et al. “Dentin hypersensitivity: Recent trends in management.Journal of conservative dentistry : JCD vol. 13,4 : 218-24. doi:10.4103/0972-0707.73385
  11. Davari, AR et al. “Dentin hypersensitivity: etiology, diagnosis and treatment; a literature review.Journal of dentistry (Shiraz, Iran) vol. 14,3 : 136-45.
  12. Dahl, J. E., and U. Pallesen. “Tooth Bleaching—a Critical Review of the Biological Aspects.Critical Reviews in Oral Biology & Medicine vol. 14, no. 4, July 2003, pp. 292–304, doi:10.1177/154411130301400406.
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