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Managing Sensitive Teeth After Whitening

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If you’ve ever experienced sensitive teeth after whitening, you’ll know what a pain it can be! Read on to find out more about the side effects of teeth whitening; we’ll also share the answers to some popular questions including ‘Why does teeth whitening hurt?’ and ‘Can teeth whitening cause teeth to chip?’

What is Teeth Whitening?

Teeth whitening or bleaching is the process of lightening the colour of your teeth and can make a huge difference to the brightness of your smile! It may not result in brilliant white teeth, but can be effective for removing surface stains and improving discolouration. If the treatment is done safely and professionally, you should be able to notice a big difference in your smile without any damage to the surface of your teeth. 

There are several ways you can whiten your teeth – you can either opt for a professional treatment at your dentist or try home teeth whitening. However, there are a few common side effects of teeth whitening, for example, many people can experience gum irritation or sensitive teeth when using hydrogen peroxide-based products, which is the most common bleaching agent in the UK. 

There are many types of whitening products – from gels and bleaching strips to whitening toothpaste and mouth rinses. Over-the-counter products can be bought from your local chemist or pharmacy and can be effective at removing surface stains. Your dentist can also administer whitening treatments in-chair or provide a kit for home teeth whitening, these products are usually stronger than those you can buy from the chemist. 

Your Sensitive Side

Unfortunately, many people can experience the pain of sensitive teeth after whitening. When your teeth are sensitive, they can have enhanced responses to hot and cold drinks, brushing your teeth or sweet foods – in the form of short, sharp pain. This sensation frequently occurs during the early stages of bleaching treatment when the hydrogen peroxide penetrates your tooth enamel, exposing the nerves in the dentine beneath it.

Products like whitening toothpaste may cause less sensitivity because they only treat stains on the surface of your teeth and are less likely to penetrate through your tooth enamel. However, different patients can experience different results using the same product depending on their teeth. Generally, gels used in bleaching trays and products purchased from your dentist have a greater potential for causing sensitive teeth after whitening as they tend to have a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide.

You may also experience gum irritation with the use of peroxide-based bleaching agents, though sometimes gum tissue irritation comes from ill-fitting trays used to hold the bleaching agent. 

Dental Visit

Before you begin your teeth whitening journey, always consult with your dentist to determine if whitening is a good option for you, as well as to understand your potential for tooth sensitivity. Your dentist can evaluate your teeth and determine the type of whitening treatment method that would be most appropriate for you. They may also recommend a desensitising toothpaste to provide immediate tooth sensitivity relief. Other options used to aid in reducing the feeling of sensitive teeth after whitening may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and oral products that contain fluoride or potassium nitrate.

Tips to Reduce Sensitive Teeth After Whitening Treatment 

Sensitivity in your teeth and gums is usually temporary and should stop soon after you finish your teeth whitening treatment. However, the frequency and severity of tooth sensitivity can be affected by the quality of the bleaching products you use, your response to the bleach itself and the technique you choose to use.

One of the easiest and most effective things you can do before and after teeth whitening is to use a desensitising toothpaste. Sensitive toothpastes contain active ingredients such as potassium nitrate and stannous fluoride that work to block your pain sensors and protect your teeth. For example, Colgate Sensitive Instant Relief Toothpaste has been created with Pro-Argin technology that plugs the areas of exposed dentine that lead to sensitivity. By doing this, our sensitive toothpaste starts to block the pain of sensitivity instantly* and bring you the relief you need.

There are other things you can try to limit the pain of sensitive teeth after teeth whitening. Some of our favourite tips include: 

  • Choose a whitening product with a lower percentage of hydrogen peroxide.
  • Reduce the amount of time you wear the whitening product and never wear the product for longer than stated on the packaging.
  • Wait for longer in between treatments.
  • Ask your dentist for a desensitising treatment or varnish applied in-chair.
  • Use a prescribed gel or toothpaste that is specially formulated for tooth sensitivity.
  • Brush your teeth gently, using a soft-bristled brush and lukewarm water.
  • Change your diet by avoiding very hot, cold or sugary foods for a day or two after whitening.
  • Drink through a straw to minimise liquids being in contact with your teeth.
  • Avoid excessive use of home teeth whitening treatments.
  • Use bleaching products with added desensitising agents.


Why does teeth whitening hurt?

The chemicals used in teeth whitening products can penetrate tiny holes in your tooth enamel or cause irritation to your sensitive gum tissue - particularly if you already suffer from sensitive teeth. When the bleaching agents penetrate through to the delicate dentine inside your teeth it can cause a sharp pain. 

How long will I have sensitive teeth after whitening?

You may experience sensitive teeth after whitening for around 24-48 hours. Fortunately, sensitivity rarely lasts longer than this. Follow our steps above to give you the best chance of avoiding the pain of sensitive teeth. 

Does teeth whitening damage sensitive teeth?

If you follow the instructions on whitening products and use them with the recommended frequency, you won’t damage your teeth. Tooth enamel damage occurs when you leave products on your teeth for too long or use them too often. Don’t be afraid to whiten your teeth if you suffer from sensitivity, but always speak with your dentist before using any whitening products. They’ll be able to suggest the best products to use to help get the results you want. 

Can teeth whitening cause teeth to chip?

Some teeth whitening methods can cause temporary sensitivity, but they shouldn’t cause any lasting damage to your teeth like chips or cracks. If you notice chips or cracks in your teeth, it’s likely your tooth enamel was already damaged or has already weakened over time. 

*For instant relief, apply directly to the sensitive tooth with a fingertip and massage gently for 1 minute up to twice a day.



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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.