Rapid advancements in dental and medical technology mean that there are numerous ways to keep your teeth white. From special toothpastes and gels to in-office treatments like laser whitening, there's an option for every budget and timeframe.
But the ability to whiten your teeth in a few weeks or less comes with one big caveat: it can cause significant tooth sensitivity. And for those who already experience sensitivity when their teeth come into contact with hot and cold foods or beverages, this can be a deal breaker.
Fortunately, there are ways to whiten your teeth without having to worry about increased sensitivity. In this article, we'll show you some of the best methods for whitening sensitive teeth in 2023.
How Can I Whiten My Highly Sensitive Teeth?
If you have highly sensitive teeth, there are several whitening methods that won't work for you.
- Whitening toothpaste and strips are abrasive and can irritate your gums and teeth.
- The heat and light applications required for laser whitening and Zoom whitening are too intense.
- Teeth whitening kits that use hydrogen peroxide or bleaching agents can cause dehydration and exacerbate pain.
Sensitivity is a side effect in about 50% of teeth whitening patients, making it the most common complaint. And out of those who use at-home whitening solutions, about 4% experience severe sensitivity.
If you've never experienced teeth sensitivity, consider yourself lucky. And if you have, you know that the pain can be unbearable.
When deciding between teeth whitening options, you have a few choices:
- Avoid all professional dental services and over-the-counter solutions, opting instead for lifestyle changes and natural remedies
- Find a whitening product that minimizes the amount of abrasives, heat, and chemicals in order to reduce sensitivity
- Use a desensitizing toothpaste prior to your whitening session
- Take precautions to deal with the sensitivity during treatment
If you decide to go through with the process, you will probably have to use more than one of these approaches. And if your teeth are too sensitive even for these methods, you may have to consider other options like veneers or crowns to get the look you want.
Is There A Painless Way To Whiten Sensitive Teeth?
Technically, there is no way to "guarantee" painlessness throughout the teeth whitening process. Teeth are inherently porous, and the whitening chemicals and heat cause these pores to expand in order to lift the stains and discoloration. This means that even the mildest of treatments might cause sensitive teeth after whitening.
However, there are a few options for those who want to reduce this discomfort as much as possible.
- Desensitizing Toothpaste: You can try using desensitizing toothpaste before and after your treatment. This type of toothpaste contains compounds that fill in the exposed dentin tubules in order to reduce the transmission of heat and cold stimuli.
- LED Whitening System: Using a light-emitting diode (LED) whitening system. These devices use low levels of light energy to activate the hydrogen peroxide in your whitening gel without producing heat or causing dehydration.
- Whitening Trays: Custom-fit trays made from soft materials like silicone can reduce pain and sensitivity. These trays act as a barrier between your gums and the whitening solution, preventing both dehydration and gum irritation.
Brushing your teeth twice every day and sticking to a regular dental care routine can also help you minimize your tooth sensitivity and prevent it from recurring.
According to the Mayo Clinic, using a soft-bristled toothbrush, flossing daily, and using a fluoride toothpaste are all great habits to maintain.
This also means that those who suffer from tooth sensitivity don't have to rule out teeth whitening treatments right away. Instead, they can try to improve their smile with a few lifestyle changes and home remedies, then revisit the idea of whitening whenever they feel ready.
Natural Remedies For Whitening Sensitive Teeth
If you’re looking for a natural, holistic way to improve the whiteness of your teeth without exacerbating preexisting sensitivity, there are a couple of options you can explore.
- Flossing: Flossing is the golden ticket to avoiding tooth sensitivity. Not only is it important for removing plaque buildup, but it also helps reduce the amount of bacteria that can lead to inflammation and pain. When it comes to natural teeth whitening, people often overlook the importance of everyday activities like flossing, but that's what makes the biggest difference.
- Using an Electric Toothbrush: Not only does an electric toothbrush remove plaque more effectively, but it also prevents you from over-brushing and wearing away your gumlines. This can help protect your teeth from the damages of whitening chemicals, reducing sensitivity and prolonging the life of your whitening results.
- Baking Soda: This versatile pantry staple can be used to brush your teeth or make a paste with water to apply directly onto your teeth. Baking soda has numerous studies that point to its teeth-whitening capabilities, including one published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, and it's a well-known and natural remedy for reducing tooth sensitivity. Baking soda is mildly abrasive, so it might not be the best option for those with extremely sensitive teeth. But it’s worth a try for those with milder cases.
- Low-Concentration Peroxide Paste: Some peroxide treatments contain up to 43% hydrogen peroxide, which is powerful even for someone without sensitivity. To avoid worsening your condition, you can create your own paste at home with less than 1% concentration. This won't get you results quickly, but slow and steady wins the race.
There are also numerous fads that some people claim to have success with, such as oil pulling, activated charcoal, and apple cider vinegar. While these may be good for your overall oral hygiene, the scientific evidence of their whitening capabilities is lacking—so take claims with a grain of salt.
Oil pulling, for example, is an ancient Indian practice that involves swishing oil around your mouth for a few minutes each day. This process helps to draw toxins and bacteria out of the teeth and gums, which can help reduce sensitivity over time.
Coconut oil is said to be an excellent option for this, as it has antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Some studies point to the success of this practice, but Healthline verifies that there are not enough studies to make any definitive claims about it.
Essential Tips For Whitening Sensitive Teeth
The exact whitening procedure you go with will depend largely on how sensitive your teeth are. To provide as much information for as many people as possible, we've provided tips for all types of whitening procedures so you can pick the one that's best for you.
In-Office Bleaching Procedures
In-office or professional whitening is becoming more and more popular, especially as results can be seen in a matter of days (or minutes).
When comparing in-chair vs. at-home whitening, the former offers several benefits:
- A dentist will work with you to uncover underlying issues resulting in sensitivity. Having a licensed professional closely examine your dental situation will take some guesswork out of your whitening routine. If you discover a hidden reason for your tooth sensitivity, you can work toward fixing it and then revisit teeth whitening with more options.
- Your dentist can advise you on the best whitening protocols for your particular situation. Your dentist is likely familiar with your oral health history, so they will be able to suggest a whitening solution that won't exacerbate any sensitivity you may already have.
- Your whitening treatment will be tailored to your mouth. The proportions of peroxide and other chemicals used in-office bleaching are carefully calculated to avoid damage, and the dentist will also be able to adjust them for maximum efficacy. Around 1 in 10 people have sensitive teeth, so your dentist will almost certainly have solutions for you before you even ask.
- Dentists know how to work with sensitive teeth. Like we said, you aren't the first person to come in with a sensitivity issue, and your dentist has likely had plenty of practice working around it. That means they're better versed at avoiding any pain you might experience as part of the whitening process.
- You won't have to do the work yourself. As someone who isn't a dental expert, determining a whitening treatment, measuring proportions, and completing procedures based on what you read leave a lot of room for error. With an in-office whitening treatment, the work is done for you.
Since the stakes are higher for those with sensitive teeth, we strongly recommend speaking to your dentist before beginning any whitening procedure. They'll be able to advise you on the best options, and they probably offer in-office treatments specifically designed for people with sensitivity.
At-Home Professional Treatments
Visiting the dentist multiple times throughout the process is incredibly beneficial, but it can also be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming.
If you work regular 9-5 Monday-Friday hours, scheduling 3-4 consultations with your dentist within a few weeks of each other may be challenging. And if you live in an area with a high cost of living (e.g., Southern California or New York City), you might need to shell out thousands of dollars for that kind of service.
At-home teeth whitening isn't something we fully recommend for those with tooth sensitivity, but there are professional treatments available. The best part? You can do them from the comfort of your own home, without having to set aside hours to visit a dentist.
When you opt for an at-home professional treatment, the process looks like this:
- The dentist meets you for an initial consultation. During this meeting, your dentist will discuss your sensitivity issues and how whitening might affect them.
- The dentist prescribes a custom professional teeth whitening kit. This is tailored to your mouth, so it takes into account the size of your teeth, the degree of staining, and any other factors that may play into the efficacy of the treatment.
- You complete the process at home. The instructions in your kit should be straightforward and easy to follow. Most kits come with a customized whitening tray and enough whitening gel or strips for your entire treatment.
The straightforwardness of this process means that you won't need to take time out of your busy schedule. And since you're still working with a dentist, you'll still get expert tips and advice. Plus, you can book another appointment whenever you need to.
Natural Whitening Products And DIY Whitening
As we mentioned, plenty of whitening products are harsh on your teeth. If even the smallest concentrations of peroxide cause sensitivity issues for you, you might want to try natural whitening products instead.
Some of the most popular home remedies include:
- Baking soda and lemon juice
- Hydrogen peroxide and baking soda
- Apple cider vinegar
- Activated charcoal
- Oil pulling
You can usually find all of these items in your kitchen, but many of them are acidic or abrasive. And their credibility lies in anecdotal evidence, which means that results may vary. We recommend doing extensive research before making the decision to try any of these, as you might end up compromising your dental health or wasting your time.
Whitening toothpaste is a special kind of toothpaste that contains gentle whitening agents. It isn't anywhere near as strong as professional whitening treatments, which is why it might seem like a viable option for those with tooth sensitivity.
That said, whitening toothpaste isn't suitable for those with severe staining or discoloration. It's best used as a maintenance product—you should use it to keep your teeth their brightest in-between professional treatments.
Furthermore, an F1000Research study found whitening toothpaste to erode tooth enamel after just a few weeks of use. Whitening toothpaste is only meant to be used for a short period of time—those who have sensitive teeth after cleaning or need to use Sensodyne every day should avoid it entirely.
If the pain from your tooth sensitivity is unbearable, even after looking into the above options, porcelain veneers might your best option.
There are a few benefits to porcelain veneers:
- They are easy to apply, and the results last for up to 10 years.
- They can cover up any imperfections in your enamel.
- The ceramic material used is resistant to staining and discoloration—which means you won’t need to worry about whitening treatments every few months.
Essentially, getting veneers is like getting a brand new set of teeth—and you don’t have to worry about sensitivity or discoloration.
The major drawback of veneers is that the cost can be quite high. Veneers typically range from $500 to $2500 per tooth, depending on where you live and what type of material you choose. Plus, the process for getting them isn’t reversible—once your teeth have been shaped for the veneers, it’s virtually impossible to go back (unless you replace them again).
If you have sensitive teeth, you should try to get to the root cause of your sensitivity before attempting to whiten your teeth. In some cases, whitening treatments may exacerbate or even cause tooth sensitivity.
The best solution for sensitive teeth is to consult a dentist and have them examine your oral hygiene and suggest any necessary treatment. If the pain persists after that, you may want to look into natural home remedies or porcelain veneers as an effective way of managing your sensitivity and whitening your teeth at the same time.
Regardless of your decision, it’s important to remember that your oral health is paramount. Remembering to brush and floss regularly goes a long way, and it may even solve your problem.
Want to know more? Here are a few questions our customers frequently ask us:
How Can I Whiten My Yellow Sensitive Teeth?
To whiten yellow teeth with sensitivity issues, you will have to take certain precautions. Start by talking to your dentist, who can advise you on the best whitening treatment for your situation. Some of the options available are professional treatments, at-home kits, and natural products. If none of these work for you, porcelain veneers might be a better option.
What Is The Best Toothpaste For Sensitive Teeth?
The best toothpaste for sensitive teeth is one that contains active ingredients such as potassium nitrate and strontium chloride. These are designed to help reduce the pain associated with sensitivity and can provide lasting relief over time. Sensodyne is a popular brand, but there are plenty of others on the market as well.
Can Very Sensitive Teeth Be Whitened?
Having extremely sensitive teeth doesn't necessarily mean that they can't be whitened. It just means that there are fewer options to pick from. Professional treatments are typically the safest and most effective route, but you can also look into natural remedies and DIY options. Before attempting to whiten sensitive teeth, it's worth consulting a dental professional to get to the bottom of the issue and determine the best course of action.
How Do Dentists Whiten Sensitive Teeth?
Since dentists take a customized approach to each patient, the steps for whitening sensitive teeth will vary from person to person. Generally speaking, dentists may use a combination of professional treatments (such as in-chair teeth bleaching), at-home kits, and a pre-planned dental care regimen to help reduce the pain associated with sensitivity and achieve a brighter smile.