Why Does Teeth Whitening Hurt?

Whitening is the one of the most popular ways to rid your teeth of surface stains, fix discoloration and improve the overall shade of your teeth. It is a treatment that can be done either in office with a dental professional, or in your own home with whitening strips or trays. In general, teeth whitening is considered to be an effective and harmless process.

However, some people may experience accompanying teeth sensitivity during or after teeth whitening. This sensitivity can range from dull discomfort to a sharp, quick pain in certain areas of the mouth.

If you find yourself experiencing teeth pain and sensitivity in the midst of your teeth whitening journey – don’t worry. There are a few factors that may influence when and why this discomfort and pain exist. We will be going over a few in this article and how you can avoid them!

Like I mentioned above, in general teeth whitening is a very safe and harmless process when used and performed correctly. So when and why does pain accompany teeth whitening?

Sensitive Teeth

Let’s start with the most simple answer: Some people have naturally sensitive teeth. Because the strength, enamel and quality of teeth will vary from person to person, so will the level of sensitivity. This level may be defined by age, previous dental work, enamel erosion and so forth.

How do I know if I have sensitive teeth?

To answer this question, let’s consider the following.

Have you ever experienced…

  • Discomfort or pain when drinking or rinsing with particularly hot or cold water?
  • Sharp pain when brushing?
  • Aches or pains when chewing or eating food?

If you can identify with one or more of the above, you likely have sensitive teeth.

Teeth sensitivity is actually quite common and affects over 3 million people a year. It can be the result of many factors including:

  • Cavities
  • Loss of enamel (through brushing too hard, eating acidic foods, etc.)
  • Cracked teeth
  • Over-using mouthwash
  • Gum disease

And so on. Those with teeth sensitivity may also have dentin hypersensitivity, a painful condition that occurs when the inner (dentin) layer of tooth gets exposed. Dentin is the inner layer of tooth structure under the surface enamel.

How to Relieve Teeth Sensitivity 

The good news is that most teeth sensitivity can be self-treated. In order to relieve or reduce your teeth sensitivity, try implementing the following into your lifestyle:

  • Soft Bristled Brush – Replace your toothbrush with one that is soft and non-abrasive.
  • Fluoride Toothpaste – Fluoride can help strengthen enamel to further protect your teeth.
  • Avoid Acidic Foods – Try limiting the amount of acidic foods you consume as they can eat away at the protective layers of your teeth.

Having sensitive teeth is usually the culprit when it comes to experiencing pain from teeth whitening. But it’s also important to consider what else could be affecting your reaction to a whitening treatment.

Treatment was Performed Incorrectly

It is rare to experience a faulty whitening treatment in your dentist’s chair because the process is being completed by a professional. However, it’s not uncommon to make a few mistakes when opting for an at-home treatment.

If you are experiencing pain during or after teeth whitening, there is a possibility that the treatment was not performed correctly.

In these instances, check to ensure that:

  • You left the whitening gel on for the correct amount of time. Leaving the whitening solution for too long can result in an over-exposure to the chemicals in the whitening agents.
  • The whitening tray was the right size. Utilizing a whitening tray that is too big or too small may lead to excess gel coming into contact with your gums – which can cause a tingly or painful feeling.
  • You checked the ingredient list. Not all whitening gels are made the same – in fact, some even include non-FDA approved chemicals that are unhealthy to use! Therefore it’s important to read over the list of ingredients prior to beginning your teeth whitening procedure.

Speaking of…

It’s in the Ingredients

Another reason you may be feeling discomfort after teeth whitening could be in the ingredients. Most whitening agents found in whitening gels contain hydrogen peroxide, which a fair majority of people are sensitive to.

This is because hydrogen peroxide can cause damage or partial removal of the protective layer (enamel) of the teeth. When this layer is damaged, it can expose the dentin layer beneath and cause an uncomfortable or painful feeling.

There Are Health-Related Issues

They say that time heals all wounds and, generally speaking, this is true in the teeth whitening world as well. Most pain or discomfort associated with teeth whitening is short-term and will usually dissipate within the 24-48 hours post-treatment.

However, It’s extremely important to visit a dentist or healthcare professional if:

  • The pain lasts longer than normal
  • There is an increase in pain
  • You notice anything off or unnatural occurring on or around your teeth

Always be cautious when performing a teeth whitening treatment at home and don’t hesitate to reach out to a heath care professional if you have any questions or concerns.