Pro, Pain-Free Tips For Whitening Sensitive Teeth

by Courtney Leiva
pixelfit/E+/Getty Images

Whether it’s with convenient strips or brightening mouth trays, whitening your teeth without the help of a dentist is now easier than ever. However, not all at-home whitening essentials are created equal, especially since many consumers suffer from unwanted sensitivity when using such products.

But instead of throwing all your whitening helpers away immediately, know that there are safe and sensitive-approved options readily available. And no matter what method you personally choose, understand that there are effective treatments that fit easily into any kind of lifestyle.

“When considering a teeth whitening procedure, it’s important to find the solution that fits your lifestyle the best,” explains Dr. Dan Fischer, President and CEO of Ultradent Products, to me over email. “Being that there really is no single right solution, know that there are options to fit different lifestyles: from an in-office treatment, to treatments that last five to ten days at 30-90 minutes per treatment.”

To properly understand how whitening causes sensitivity, I asked experts to school us on exactly how brightening products irritate the teeth. And with handy sensitivity whitening tips and product recommendations to totally jot down, you’ll never have to suffer from searing, splitting pain in your mouth ever again.

Understand What Causes Sensitivity

Caused by opening of tiny pores (yes, teeth have pores) found on the teeth, sensitivity can be a big problem when whitening, dental expert and NYC Smile Spa co-founder Dr. Joshua Perlman tells me.

And while it’s true that sensitivity can also arise when pores are exposed to hot and cold temperatures, whitening products can cause big problems once they get into these tiny pores, as they can cause a mind-numbing pain no one wants to deal with.

“When you whiten your teeth, the science behind the bleaching process allows the peroxide to get into the pores of your teeth and break up stains underneath the surface,” says Dr. Perlman. “Some patients experience extreme temperature sensitivity after bleaching due to the opening of these pores, and allowing air and heat to enter into the sensitive part of the tooth.”

Try In Office Treatments

If you are suffering from extreme sensitivity, seeking in-office treatments is probably your best bet, as doctors can prescribe safe and effective treatments that will cause little to no pain. But even if you want to consider at-home treatments, talking to a doctor first can help you easily decide which products you should use.

In-office treatments vary greatly depending on needs of the patient, but whitening can easily be done for those with even the most sensitive of teeth, says Dr. Joshua Perlman. Among such treatments comes using topical high concentration fluoride gel to prevent any pain post-treatment, explains Dr. Perlman.

“We use a topical high concentration fluoride gel that the patient places into custom teeth trays that patients wear after whitening,” Perlman says. “The fluoride blocks up these newly formed pores, and prevents that shooting shock type of feeling that many patients dread.”

Another effective method of safe whitening, comes using a less intense concentration of bleaching gel on the teeth, states Dr. Perlman. And while this solution is left on the teeth for a longer period of time, this notion helps achieve the same results, without the unbearable pain of course.

“Another way we deal with sensitivity is by prescribing patients a less intense concentration of bleaching gel,” Perlman says. “Instead of giving a patient the strongest bleaching gel which they wear for one hour, we give them a weaker concentration which they keep in for a longer duration. Patients can achieve the exact same results with either concentration of gel.”

Investigate At-Home Treatments

And while in-office treatments are highly recommended for those with extremely sensitive teeth, at-home alternatives are also a viable option. However, when shopping for whitening products, just being weary of ingredients, as some can be extremely harmful to the mouth, Dr. Dan Fischer tells me.

“Remember not all whitening products contain the same ingredients,” says Dr. Fischer. “Look for a product that contains potassium nitrate and fluoride to help reduce any potential tooth sensitivity.”

Other ingredients to avoid include silica, polyethylene and propylene glycol, as they can work as harmful abrasives in your mouth, making sensitivity pain only worse.

“Most at-home teeth whitening products contain harmful abrasives such as silica, which may erode tooth enamel and trigger sensitivity (in addition to gum irritation and receding gums),” says SuperSmile inventor Dr. Irwin Smigel. “Other harmful ingredients include: polyethylene, sodium hydroxide, propylene glycol, and ammonium hydroxide.”

When shopping for at-home treatments, it’s important to look for products that strengthen the teeth’s enamel without causing nasty irritation. The ultra gentle Supersmile Professional Whitening System for example, uses Calprox, a proprietary form of calcium peroxide, states Dr. Smigel.

Super Smile Professional Whitening System, $28, Amazon

“Our proprietary ingredient, Calprox, gently dissolves the protein pellicle where plaque, bacteria and stains adhere; safely lifting stains without scratching, damaging or eroding tooth enamel,” says Dr. Smigel. “Unlike other whitening systems, our professional whitening products include ingredients (phosphates, calcium and magnesium) that strengthen tooth enamel through the process of re-mineralization.”

Always Consult Your Dentist

No matter which treatment you decide on, most experts advise to consult the opinion of your dentist first to discuss safe forms of whitening. In seeking professional help, you can also properly diagnose which exactly is causing your sensitivity.

“Don’t suffer in silence, if you are already having daily sensitivity, only your dentist can properly diagnose what is causing it,” explains celebrity cosmetic dentist Dr. Bill Dorfman. “Each cause has a different solution, so let your dentist diagnose the problem and help you.”

Should I Still Whiten?

Getting that whiter smile may be easier than ever, but if you are suffering from sensitivity, it’s always best to seek the advice of a dentist before opting for any kind of treatment.

Seeking in-office procedures can help you achieve gleaming teeth without any pain or numbness, plus you can easily find out (and diagnose) what’s causing your sensitivity issues. However, whitening at-home can be done, but it’s important to check out your ingredients first before trying anything out of the norm.