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Teeth Whitening & Sensitive Teeth: What You Should Know

Senior woman with sensitive teeth and cup of hot coffee at home

If you have sensitive teeth, you may have heard that whitening can be a challenge. That whitening products such as gels, rinses, or even toothpastes can make your teeth sensitive. Tooth sensitivity can be, but it doesn’t have to be a problem if you want whiter teeth. The team at Canal Vista Family Dental can help you navigate your options and choose the best route for you.

Why Are My Teeth Sensitive?

Understanding what makes your teeth sensitive can help you select the best whitening treatment. Tooth sensitivity most often comes about when the roots of the teeth are exposed. This happens when the gums recede and expose the softer, more sensitive root surfaces. This sensitive part of the root is called the dentin, and it has a direct connection to the pulp, or nerve, inside of the tooth. When hot or cold food or drink come into contact with this surface, you’ll probably feel at least some degree of discomfort. Cavities, tooth grinding, and cracked teeth can also cause tooth sensitivity.

Enamel covers the part of the tooth in the mouth that’s typically visible (what we call the anatomical crown,) and it is the white part you chew with and see when you smile. While enamel is very strong, it is still possible to damage your teeth and create an exposure of the dentin underneath. Whitening toothpastes can open this connection and cause temporary sensitivity. Consumption of acidic foods like lemons, limes, and tomatoes over time can cause also tooth sensitivity. What’s even more surprising is that some flavored bottled water is quite erosive to tooth enamel.

It’s always a good idea to see our Princeton dentist for an exam to make sure your teeth are in good shape and don’t need any treatment prior to whitening. Whitening is only recommended if you have healthy teeth and gums.

Can I Still Whiten My Teeth if They’re Sensitive?

You can whiten your teeth even if they are usually sensitive. You will want to take some sensitivity prevention steps, however. Use a sensitivity formulated toothpaste, like Sensodyne, twice a day for two weeks prior to your whitening session. If you are using an at home whitening method and notice sensitivity, you may want to space out your applications a bit. Such as every other day instead of daily. It will probably also be a good idea to see your dental hygienist for an application of fluoride varnish at least twice a year. Fluoride varnish is an amazing tool to help decrease sensitivity in teeth for months at a time.

Another good tip for decreasing the incidence of tooth sensitivity after whitening is to avoid sensitivity triggers before, during, and after whitening. Do you love lemon water? Skip it for now. Do you enjoy red wine at dinner? Wait until your whitening session has finished. You’ll be much happier with the results and less likely to experience painful sensitivity.

What Options for Whitening are Available to Me?

The quickest and easiest method for whitening the teeth in Princeton, NJ is in office whitening. During this procedure, a protective barrier gel is placed around the gumline to protect the gums from any irritation caused by the whitening gel. Then the whitening product is applied, while a retracting device keeps your lips and cheeks away from the gel. Often ,a light is used to help expedite the process and speed up stain oxidation. This entire procedure usually takes about one to one and a half hours from start to finish.

You can also perform the professional whitening process at home, if you have the right products on hand. You will want to have impressions taken of your teeth to make trays that fit your smile quite precisely. We will send you home with a couple of tubes of whitening gel for you to use for about 10 to 14 days. You might also like to try whitening strips from the grocery store, but keep in mind that these ingredients are much weaker and less effective than having your teeth whitened by a dentist. Crest has an option that only needs five minutes of your time per application. Sometimes white strips are a good idea for those who are unsure about the process or would like a more economical option. But without a proper dental screening first, you run the risk of unnecessary tooth sensitivity.

What Products Are Good for Sensitive Teeth After Whitening?

Toothpastes that contain potassium nitrate or stannous fluoride as the active ingredient are great for protecting and soothing sensitive teeth. Especially when you start using them for several days leading up to your whitening treatment. Potassium nitrate is soothing to the nerves, while stannous fluoride acts as a plug for the microscopic pathways to your nerve, avoiding painful sensitivity.

If you have sensitive teeth on a regular basis, these products will be something that you will want to use daily, as well. Sensodyne, Crest Pro-Health, and Colgate are good brands to try, as long as they have potassium nitrate or stannous fluoride as the active ingredient. Sensodyne is the most well-known for sensitivity relief.

How Can I Maintain My Whitening Results and Avoid Further Sensitivity?

Whitening results can be maintained longer if you follow certain protocols. Try sipping your red wine through a straw or limiting tomato products, for example. Rinse your mouth immediately after eating or drinking and use a straw when sipping sodas or juices. Also, proper and consistent oral hygiene helps to remove bacteria that stain the teeth.

Whitening toothpastes, when used on a regular basis, can potentially increase sensitivity. They can be helpful, though, for removing surface stains. Our Princeton dentist can advise you on an appropriate schedule for using a whitening toothpaste, if applicable, to help maintain your whitening results. In terms of sensitivity, you will want to avoid or limit food and drinks that can heighten discomfort, such as alcohol, coffee, juice, flavored bottled water, tomato products, lemons, and limes.
Give the Canal Vista Family Dental team a call to schedule your consultation for professional teeth whitening.

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