Teeth Whitening and Sensitive Teeth: Tips From the American Dental Association

We provide teeth whitening treatments at our San Francisco dentist office and find that this is an excellent way for our patients to improve the appearance of their smile with minimal effort or time.  Teeth that are white can make a person appear younger and healthier, enhancing their overall appearance.  Still, some of our patients are concerned that the procedure might irritate their teeth.

There are several misconceptions regarding tooth sensitivity that should be addressed.  First, sensitive teeth (as a condition) is caused by the enamel wearing away.  Since the enamel is the strong, protective outer layer of the tooth, when it wears away, the porous dentin is exposed.  The nerve endings are inside of the dentin which is why irritation occurs when something touches the tooth.  This condition can be treated in our office by applying dental crowns in order to surround and protect the tooth.  If you live with severe sensitivity on a daily basis, this is likely the best solution for protecting your teeth and improving their appearance.  If, however, your teeth feel fine normally – the only risk with teeth whitening them is that some temporary sensitivity may occur. This is typically caused by an overuse or overexposure to the bleaching agent that can happen with in-home treatments.  Simultaneously, if the trays are loose (common with over the counter products), the whitening solution can leak out and onto the gums which will cause irritation.  Both of these risks can be reduced or eliminated when having the procedure completed at our dental office.

The American Dental Association has also provided tips on how to reduce potential tooth sensitivity during the whitening process.  In a report published in 2009 titled, “Tooth Whitening/Bleaching: Treatment Considerations for Dentists and Their Patients” the ADA suggested that people use a desensitizing toothpaste containing potassium nitrate prior to the treatment and afterward for as long as necessary.  This is a simple and easy step that can minimize the potential of teeth feeling irritated.  Additionally, they recommended that patients with sensitive teeth wear the whitening trays with a solution of potassium nitrate immediately before the procedure for ten to thirty minutes.  This would need to be completed in a dentist office, another benefit of having the procedure completed by a professional.

The only other concern to watch for with a teeth whitening procedure is that if you have any cavities, infections or gum disease, these factors could expose you to further irritation.  Just as biting down can irritate a tooth with a cavity, a cosmetic procedure like this can also cause irritation as an object comes in contact with the infected tooth.  In our San Francisco office, we conduct a thorough examination prior to whitening teeth in order to ensure that there are no health issues that need to be addressed prior to starting the procedure.  If so, we will create a treatment plan for you so that all health issues can be resolved before moving onto the actual appearance of your teeth.  Keep in mind that if you do have any cavities we can use a natural tooth-colored filling so that it will only improve how you look and feel.

Darlene De La Paz