Tooth sensitivity isn’t uncommon, but to a degree, it can limit whitening options. “The sensitivity with whitening is mostly correlated with the percentage of the whitening gel, not the product itself,” explains Marc Sclafani, dentist, and co-founder of One Manhattan Dental in New York City. “Factors that may influence the development or extent of tooth sensitivity associated with bleaching include the concentration of carbamide or hydrogen peroxide and baking soda.” The higher the level of these whitening agents in the formula, the more likely teeth are to experience sensitivity.
Kevin Sands, a cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills, further explains what causes pain after a whitening procedure. “The ingredients essentially clean out the enamel pores where stain can deposit,” he says. “In doing so, the pores can dry out for a few hours in which air or temperature fluctuations can flow easily through the pores to the nerves of the teeth,” Sands explains. “This is pretty much inevitable in most effective whitening procedures.”
My own teeth have become increasingly more sensitive, but I’ve still been able to use whitening toothpaste regularly. Sclafani says that these most commonly whiten teeth with ingredients that scrub away surface stains — they don’t penetrate or bleach teeth. He says that this method isn’t truly “whitening” your teeth, but it’s a worthwhile daily solution for diminishing discoloration over time. Keep in mind, however, that these surface-level cleaners aren’t designed for prolonged use as they can exacerbate sensitivity. “The abrasiveness can irritate your gum tissue and abrade the surface of your tooth,” Sclafani points out. “This irritation can result in sensitivity on both the hard and soft tissues of your mouth.” So prepare to cycle your whitening toothpaste out every few weeks for a non-whitening formula.
Sensitive teeth sufferers may be thinking that neither bleaching nor brushing sounds like a worthwhile whitening risk. Luckily, there are alternatives that can get teeth looking brighter with little to no sensation. We asked a few dentists to share their picks for the most effective at-home teeth whiteners and stain removers that should keep lingering pain to a minimum.
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