Teeth Whitening for Sensitive Teeth – What You Need to Know

Sensitive teeth are one of those common issues which creates a vicious circle for endless patients – keeping them away from the dentist for fear of experiencing discomfort, even though the very issue they’re living with could be alleviated with help from a dental professional.

The number of patients who cancel dental appointments because of sensitive teeth is higher than you might think. Having said that, there’s no reason to let sensitive teeth affect your dental treatment – whether it be a regular check-up, orthodontic work, or even teeth whitening. 

In this blog, we’re discussing one of the most common questions we get asked by those with sensitive teeth – whether they can still access teeth-whitening treatment. In short, the answer is yes – and here’s why.

What causes sensitive teeth?

Before we talk about the specifics of sensitive teeth and teeth whitening, it is first important to discuss what causes sensitive teeth. 

In the simplest possible terms, sensitive teeth occur when the layer of dentine inside your tooth or teeth is exposed. This is generally caused by the enamel on the outside of the tooth wearing away, either as a result of over brushing or a lack of general oral care and hygiene. 

This layer of dentine is covered with tiny holes that burrow right down to the central nerve of the tooth. When the dentine is left unprotected, these holes are also unprotected, which means that anything that comes into contact with the tooth is also able to contact and irritate the nerve – causing that sensitivity that we are all so familiar with. That’s why, when you drink something hot or cold, bite down on something hard, or grind your teeth too much, it can cause pain and sensitivity. 

Of course, there are other causes of sensitive teeth which could be at play – including gum disease, a cracked tooth, or outer damage to the enamel of the tooth that requires a filling. All of these are issues which can be diagnosed and treated by your dentist – a major reason why avoiding the dentist if you have sensitive teeth is a bad idea! 

The teeth-whitening process and how we minimise discomfort

When conducted in a professional dentistry setting, teeth whitening is achieved with a paste and a direct laser. The paste is first applied to the teeth at the desired concentration, to achieve the results discussed at your consultation. A laser is then used to activate the ingredients within the paste, creating an effective and efficient means of whitening the teeth. 

This works by first penetrating the structure of each tooth, and then attacking and ultimately removing the stains that are spread across the dentin of each individual tooth. 

Now, you may have noticed that both teeth whitening and teeth sensitivity revolve around the dentin – and it’s here that the issue exists. Because, while breaking down the stains on each tooth’s dentin layer is what helps to create that whitening effect, it is this same layer that causes sensitivity. Thus, if you experience sensitivity or have experienced sensitivity with teeth whitening in the past, then it might be that the bleach used in whitening pastes is what causes irritation to the dentin. To counteract this, your dentist can simply dilute or use less of the bleaching agent.

Does teeth-whitening treatment cause sensitive teeth?

If you have not experienced any sensitivity previously, but find after your whitening treatment that your teeth feel sensitive or achy, it could be that the bleach in the paste has irritated the layer of dentin in your teeth. A relatively common occurrence, most patients find that this discomfort should disappear on its own after a day or two. 

If you have an existing issue with exposed dentin and are aware that you suffer from tooth sensitivity as a result of worn-away enamel, there are steps you can take – including selecting specific teeth-whitening treatments that do not use any kind of peroxide or bleach. Over-the-counter remedies are a good place to start, or you can discuss your concerns with your dentist, who will then be able to recommend the best course of action based on your requirements.

How to alleviate sensitive teeth

If sensitive teeth are an issue you are struggling with or have struggled with in the past, there are things you can do to minimise discomfort. 

Sensitive toothpastes often contain higher levels of fluoride, which helps to strengthen the natural layer of enamel on your teeth and can help to reduce discomfort and pain. Adding fluoride to affected teeth is also something that a dentist can administer directly, for faster-acting relief.

Those suffering with sensitive teeth are also advised to steer clear of very hot and very cold drinks and foods, as these exacerbate the issue and can cause irritation to the affected teeth. Similarly, avoiding very acidic foods and drinks is recommended, including certain fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients. 

Wearing a mouth guard, particularly at night, is a good way of ensuring that you do not irritate the teeth further with unconscious grinding or biting down hard on the sensitive teeth, and you can also swap your toothbrush for one with a softer bristle to alleviate and avoid unnecessary irritation. 

Seeking help and advice from a professional dentist

Sensitive teeth do not have to prevent you from accessing any of the standard dental treatments, including teeth whitening and other aesthetic solutions. With professional dentists able to adjust and adapt treatment plans according to your specific needs and concerns, just be sure to mention any sensitivity when booking your treatment, and discuss with them the best way to alleviate and minimise any discomfort.

Here at Harley Teeth Whitening, we offer whitening services to patients of all ages and backgrounds – sensitive teeth and all. Get in touch to find out more, or reach out to us for more guidance on how to live with sensitive teeth and make your everyday routine more comfortable.