Updated on February 8, 2024
7 min read

Why Whitening Treatment Can Burn Your Gums

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It’s expected for people to prefer straight, white teeth. Orthodontic treatment can improve the alignment of your teeth, while teeth whitening can improve their color.

While teeth whitening products and procedures can safely whiten teeth, it’s still possible to experience gum irritation and tooth sensitivity due to their chemicals.

In this article, we’ll talk about how teeth whitening works, why gum irritation occurs, and how you can protect your gums during teeth whitening.

How Do You Treat Gum Burns after Teeth Whitening?

You can manage irritated gums after teeth whitening with immediate and long-term steps. Some cases may also call for professional help.

Immediate Soothing Methods for Burned Gums

If a whitening product is causing a burning sensation in your gums, cease treatment immediately and rinse your mouth with warm water. Once you’ve got the whitening tray and bleaching agent out of your mouth, try the following:

  • Apply a mouth-safe salve to your gums, such as vitamin E oil or honey
  • Apply an oral numbing gel
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication (don’t take more than the recommended dose on the packaging)

Avoid any numbing agents with peppermint, eucalyptus, or other essential oils if you know you’re sensitive to them. Otherwise, they may make the burning sensation worse.

Post-Treatment Care

During the hours and days following whitening treatment, you’ll want to continue taking care to avoid exacerbating the pain. Here are some guidelines for managing both gum burns and sensitive teeth:

  • Avoid hot, cold, spicy, or acidic foods, as these can make gum irritation and tooth sensitivity worse
  • Avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol
  • Rinse your mouth periodically with warm salt water
  • Try a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth (hydroxyapatite toothpaste, in particular, can help restore the natural mineral content of enamel)

When to Seek Professional Help for Burned Gums

If your gum pain following teeth whitening is severe or lasts for several days without improvement, or if you notice your gum tissue peeling, call your dentist. Gum irritation following whitening is usually temporary; lasting or severe pain could indicate an underlying problem.

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How to Prevent Burned Gums from Teeth Whitening?

You can reduce the risk of gum burns during teeth whitening by doing the following:

  • Following the directions carefully — Although it can easily happen, the bleaching agent in whitening kits isn’t intended to make contact with your gums. By carefully adhering to the directions that came with your kit, you’ll stand a better chance of avoiding gum pain.
  • Avoiding peroxide — Opting for a non-peroxide whitening product, or one with a lower peroxide concentration, is another way to avoid irritating your gums.
  • Choosing a custom fit — Many at-home whitening kits include impression putty for making a custom whitening tray. This will ensure a better fit for your teeth, minimizing the risk of overflowing the whitening materials onto your gums.

Professional vs. DIY Teeth Whitening Treatments

Consider professional teeth whitening with a dental practitioner. In-office teeth whitening tends to use stronger peroxide concentrations than DIY whitening products. Despite this, it’s also less likely to cause unintended pain or discomfort.

There are two main reasons for this:

  • A licensed professional will be monitoring every step of the process. They can adjust the whitening tray’s fit, the bleaching agent’s concentration, and the treatment duration.
  • Your gums can be protected from the peroxide. Many in-office treatments include a protective coating that’s applied to your gums.

What Causes Gum Irritation During Whitening?

Gum irritation can result from tooth whitening products making contact with the soft tissue of your gums. Similarly, overexposure to these chemicals can also cause tooth sensitivity.

How Do Chemical Burns Occur?

Most teeth whitening products use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide (which breaks down into the former). Hydrogen peroxide has a bleaching effect on tooth enamel.

While these products can be used safely, the peroxide could touch your gums. If this happens, the gum tissue may become temporarily irritated. Prolonged exposure can cause a mild chemical burn.

Impact of Whitening Trays and Kits

It’s easier to accidentally irritate your gums with at-home whitening trays and kits than with custom treatments administered by a dental professional.

This is partly because the concentration of peroxide isn’t being actively monitored. When applying it yourself, it’s also easy to misapply or overuse the bleaching agent.

The Link Between Teeth Whitening and Sensitivity

Many people experience an increase in tooth sensitivity following bleaching treatment. This is normal and usually only lasts a few days, but understanding why it occurs may help you manage it.

Understanding Tooth Sensitivity Post-Whitening

Hypersensitivity in teeth is usually caused by thin enamel. When your enamel is worn down, it exposes the dentin underneath. This layer of the tooth contains small tubes, called dentinal tubules, that lead deeper into the nerves of your teeth.

The peroxide used in most whitening treatments can wear your enamel down if used excessively. It can also affect any dentin that’s already exposed.

Exposure of the dentinal tubules makes teeth significantly more sensitive to heat, cold, and pressure. Ironically, it also makes teeth appear less white, as dentin is naturally yellow.

In addition, hydrogen peroxide dehydrates your teeth, further contributing to pain and sensitivity. As your teeth gradually rehydrate, they’ll become less sensitive, but worn enamel may still be a factor.

How to Ensure a Safe Whitening Experience

To maximize your satisfaction with teeth whitening and minimize discomfort and pain, try the following:

Monitor Application Time

Don’t leave a whitening product in for longer than the recommended time. Prolonged exposure to the peroxide will make any side effects worse. One benefit of in-office treatment is that a professional takes care of the timing element.

Another form of excessive exposure is through using whitening products too frequently. If your product comes with a recommended schedule, it’s important to stick to it and avoid using it more than directed.

Choose Non-Peroxide Whitening Options

Whitening kits that don’t use peroxide are also available. Many of these use baking soda, which physically removes stains rather than bleaching your enamel.

One notable non-peroxide option is the Hismile line of whitening products. Instead of baking soda, Hismile uses a bleaching formula that doesn’t cause sensitivity and can even help strengthen enamel.

You can read our review of Hismile’s whitening kit here.

Get a Tailored Whitening Process

Getting a custom whitening treatment rather than a one-size-fits-all product can also increase safety, comfort, and effectiveness.

Many at-home whitening kits include trays that can be molded to fit your teeth, as do most in-office whitening procedures. With a proper fit, it’s less likely that the whitening gel will end up on your gums.

Common Questions on Burned Gums from Teeth Whitening

Why do some people experience more pain and burns after whitening than others?

Not everyone goes into whitening treatment with the same amount of enamel or gum sensitivity. Your baseline tooth sensitivity will likely be higher if you already have thin enamel. This means that whitening your teeth may hurt worse than it would otherwise.

Any existing gum inflammation will also put you at greater risk for post-whitening gum pain.

Can teeth whitening cause permanent damage to gums or enamel?

Excessive exposure to whitening products can cause long-lasting damage. Worn enamel can still be remineralized, but it won’t grow back on its own.

Gum burns from teeth whitening aren’t likely to last more than a few days. However, excessive use of whitening products or an underlying infection could make it last longer.

How long should one wait before undergoing another whitening procedure after experiencing gum burns?

At a minimum, you should wait until the pain has fully subsided. It’s best to consult your dentist before beginning another whitening treatment. 

Summary

Gum irritation is a well-known side effect of many teeth whitening treatments. It occurs when the bleaching agent (hydrogen peroxide) makes prolonged contact with your gums.

Like tooth sensitivity, this irritation typically goes away after several days. However, it can be reduced or avoided by making informed teeth-whitening decisions.

Consult your dentist before using a whitening kit, or ask them if they offer in-office treatment. If an at-home whitening product causes pain, stop using it immediately.

Last updated on February 8, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 8, 2024
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).
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  2. Epple et al. “A Critical Review of Modern Concepts for Teeth Whitening.” Dentistry Journal, 2019.
  3. Irusa et al. “Tooth whitening procedures: A narrative review.” Dentistry Review, 2022.
  4. Rodrigues de Freitas et al. “Effectiveness and Adverse Effects of Over-the-Counter Whitening Products on Dental Tissues.” Frontiers in Dental Medicine, 2021.
  5. Bruzell et al. “Side effects of external tooth bleaching: a multi-centre practice-based prospective study.” British Dental Journal, 2013.
  6. Tredwin et al. “Hydrogen peroxide tooth-whitening (bleaching) products: Review of adverse effects and safety issues.” British Dental Journal, 2006.
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