Teeth whitening is a popular cosmetic treatment that brightens discolored and stained teeth.
Teeth can become discolored over time for many reasons. However, the most common way is from consuming dark-colored foods and beverages like coffee, red wine, tea, curry powder, tomato sauce, and berries. Natural aging, thinning enamel, tooth injuries, and certain medications can also lead to staining.
There are many whitening treatments to choose from today. They can range from a couple of dollars to over one thousand dollars. For example, at-home treatments like whitening strips and toothpastes cost between $5 and $50. LED kits and professional whitening treatments range from $50 to over $1,000.
Although effective, the most common side effect of teeth whitening treatment is sensitivity. Some people experience minimal to no sensitivity after whitening, while others develop severe sensitivity from the same products.
Dentinal hypersensitivity is defined as “a short, sharp pain arising from exposed dentin in response to stimuli.” The pain is typically temporary and localized (affecting the front teeth).8
At-home teeth whitening kits can give you the same results as professional whitening treatment in less than two weeks. (Be sure to follow instructions carefully).
Fortunately, there are many sensitivity-reducing whitening products available that are specifically designed to reduce this issue, making it possible for anyone to whiten their teeth. You just need to make sure you purchase the right products.
Best Overall Whitening Kit for Sensitive Teeth — Snow At-Home Teeth Whitening All-in-One Kit
Best Overall Whitening Kit: Runner Up — Glo Brilliant Teeth Whitening Device
Best Whitening Pen for Sensitive Teeth — AuraGlow Teeth Whitening Pen
Best Whitening Strips for Sensitive Teeth — Crest 3D Whitestrips Sensitive Teeth Whitening Kit
Best Whitening Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth — Sensodyne Pronamel Gentle Whitening Fluoride Toothpaste
Best Peroxide-Free Whitening Kit for Sensitive Teeth — Lumineux Oral Essentials Teeth Whitening Strips
Tooth sensitivity is a possible side effect of both at-home and professional teeth whitening. It affects up to 57% of patients and seems to peak between the ages of 20 and 40.7 Sensitivity is mainly caused by the bleaching solution concentration in a whitening product. Alcohol can also increase sensitivity.
For example, many products contain hydrogen peroxide as an active ingredient. This chemical is known to cause sensitivity. It removes minerals within your tooth enamel, causing your teeth to become temporarily porous and exposing the microtubules within them. The higher the concentration of peroxide, the higher the risk for sensitivity.3
Every time you apply the bleaching gel to your teeth, the peroxide chemicals penetrate your enamel and break down the dark-colored pigments. This process can cause sensitivity in the tooth's nerve through the small tubules in the dentin.
There is also a minor reduction in microhardness after whitening. But this is quickly restored to normal in most people by calcium and phosphate minerals in the saliva.
Although sensitivity is a common side effect of hydrogen peroxide, this whitening method is safe and effective when used as directed.1, 2, 4, 5, 6 Hydrogen peroxide gels whiten your teeth through oxidation, and most treatments do not cause significant changes in tooth enamel.4
Another active ingredient used in some whitening products is carbamide peroxide. Similar to hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide is also an effective tooth whitening agent. However, one study found that hydrogen peroxide is slightly more effective at whitening teeth, while carbamide peroxide results in less sensitivity after whitening.6
Some factors that make someone more susceptible to sensitivity include:
Sensitivity tends to disappear within a few days of whitening. The sensation is typically the most intense during the first day. You’ll notice small improvements every day and shouldn’t feel any sensitivity by the end of the week. Most people do not find the effects to be unbearable.
However, if you have naturally sensitive teeth, the effects of whitening can be more pronounced. You may notice that your teeth are sensitive for longer than a week. The pain is also usually more severe and uncomfortable.
Here are some tips for managing sensitive teeth before, during, and after whitening treatment:
The first step is to make sure you only buy sensitivity-reducing whitening products. These treatments typically contain lower concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and other ingredients specifically designed for sensitive teeth.
Peroxide-free whitening products also do not cause sensitivity. But they are less effective.
If you are using an at-home whitening kit, only use a small amount of whitening gel to cover each tooth. Applying too much gel makes your teeth more sensitive and will not result in quicker or more effective whitening. Using whitening gel in excess can also cause gum irritation.
Also, read the instructions carefully because treatment duration and the amount of whitening gel needed varies from product to product. Overusing whitening gels increases the risk of sensitivity.
If you notice that the recommended treatment duration is too long, try shortening the sessions to see if the sensitivity is less severe.
Rinse your mouth and brush your teeth after each whitening session to remove any excess gel. Use lukewarm water and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
NewMouth recommends LED teeth whitening systems to achieve a brighter smile. They are affordable, easy to use, produce minimal side effects, and highly effective.
Refrain from consuming hot and cold drinks directly after whitening. These substances can stimulate nerve endings and increase pain. Avoiding coffee and tea can also help your whitening results last longer.
You can also ask your dentist to recommend a prescription-strength gel or toothpaste to help reduce any sensitivity. Over-the-counter toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate can help with sensitivity.
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Based on our research, the best whitening products for sensitive teeth are:
This easy-to-use LED whitening system delivers a professional-level bleaching experience at an affordable price. The serum is also enamel-safe for those with sensitive teeth and gums.
The kit includes two different strengths of whitening serum, which allows you to increase or decrease the bleaching concentration based on needs. For example, if you experience sensitivity after using the extra strength serum, you can switch to the normal strength serum.
The LED light also speeds up the whitening process, so you don’t have to leave the gel on your teeth for a long time.
Lastly, Snow’s All-in-One Kit includes a desensitizing serum, which can be applied before and after treatment to reduce sensitivity.
GLO Science™ offers patented, award-winning, and FDA-approved LED teeth whitening kits. They combine blue LED light and heat to give you faster results with minimal to no sensitivity.
GLO does not cause sensitivity in the majority of buyers. Even if you do experience sensitivity, it will likely be mild and temporary.
The unique gel formula is also designed to stay on your teeth and off your gums, which helps reduce sensitivity even more.
AuraGlow’s Teeth Whitening Pen is the best way to whiten on the go. Simply twist the pen, brush the gel onto your teeth, and brighten your smile in under one minute.
Since the gel is applied in small doses, the risk for sensitivity is low. It is also easy to apply to your teeth and will not irritate your gums.
Each pen includes more than 15 whitening treatments and can be used twice daily. AuraGlow also offers a subscription service. You can get the pens delivered to your door every month at a reduced cost.
If you have naturally sensitive teeth, Crest’s 3D Whitestrips Sensitive Teeth Whitening Kit is a great option. The enamel-safe formula is specially designed for sensitive teeth and provides a gentler at-home whitening experience. This product also has the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
The Advanced Seal Technology’s no slip grip stays in place so you can talk and drink water while whitening.
The kit includes 14 whitening treatments, each with one upper and one lower strip. For best results, apply the strips once daily for 30 minutes.
This whitening toothpaste is also specifically formulated for sensitive teeth and gums. It contains potassium nitrate to help soothe the nerves from sensitivity. Stannous fluoride helps strengthen and reharden enamel affected by acidic foods and beverages.
The toothpaste protects your teeth from pain triggers like sweets, acids, contact, and temperature changes. The formula also helps prevent cavities and enamel damage.
For best results, use this toothpaste twice a day for two minutes.
The toothpaste also protects your teeth from pain triggers like temperature changes, sweets, acids, and contact. Fluoride is included to protect against cavities and improve enamel health.
Best Peroxide-Free Whitening Kit
Lumineux Teeth Whitening Strips are certified non-toxic, enamel-safe, SLS-free, vegan, sugar-free, preservative-free, and dentist formulated. They also whiten your teeth without sensitivity because they are peroxide and alcohol-free.
These strips are an excellent whitening option if you are allergic to peroxide, alcohol, or other chemicals. However, they will not whiten your teeth as effectively as peroxide-containing products.9, 10
Lumineux’s whitening solution includes ingredients like coconut, sage, and lemon oil. These naturally-derived ingredients reduce bad breath, help remove plaque buildup, and gently lighten discolored teeth over time.
(1) Basting, RT, et al. “Clinical Comparative Study of the Effectiveness of and Tooth Sensitivity to 10% and 20% Carbamide Peroxide Home-Use and 35% and 38% Hydrogen Peroxide In-Office Bleaching Materials Containing Desensitizing Agents.” Operative Dentistry, Allen Press, 1 Sept. 2012.
(2) Heymann, H O. “Tooth Whitening: Facts and Fallacies.” Nature News, British Dental Journal, 23 Apr. 2005.
(3) Cvikl, B, et al. “Enamel Surface Changes After Exposure to Bleaching Gels Containing Carbamide Peroxide or Hydrogen Peroxide.” Operative Dentistry, Allen Press, 1 Jan. 2016.
(4) Eimar, Hazem, et al. “Hydrogen Peroxide Whitens Teeth by Oxidizing the Organic Structure.” Journal of Dentistry, Elsevier, 24 Aug. 2012.
(5) Tao D;Smith RN;Zhang Q;Sun JN;Philpotts CJ;Ricketts SR;Naeeni M;Joiner A; “Tooth Whitening Evaluation of Blue Covarine Containing Toothpastes.” Journal of Dentistry, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
(6) Peixoto, Aline Carvalho, et al. “High-Concentration Carbamide Peroxide Can Reduce the Sensitivity Caused by in-Office Tooth Bleaching: a Single-Blinded Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Applied Oral Science : Revista FOB, Faculdade De Odontologia De Bauru - USP, 2018.
(7) Addy M. “Etiology and clinical implications of dentine hypersensitivity.” Dent Clin North Am. 1990;34:503–514.
(8) Holland GR, Narhi MN, Addy M, Gangarosa L, Orchardson R. “Guidelines for the design and conduct of clinical trials on dentine hypersensitivity.” J Clin Periodontol. 1997;24:803–813.
(9) Carey, Clifton M. “Tooth Whitening: What We Now Know.” Journal of Evidence Based Dental Practice, Mosby, 13 Feb. 2014.
(10) Bizhang, Mozhgan, et al. “Effectiveness of a New Non-Hydrogen Peroxide Bleaching Agent after Single Use - a Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Short-Term Study.” Journal of Applied Oral Science : Revista FOB, Faculdade De Odontologia De Bauru - USP, 2017.