If you have landed here, more than likely you have used a teeth whitening product and it resulted in your teeth being sensitive for a period of time afterwards.
There is no need to panic…
This especially happens when using more potent products that use higher levels of bleaching agents.
In this article, we are going to explain why this happens to your teeth and talk about a few ways to prevent/help this issue.
After all, nothing is worse than biting into something cold or drinking a cold glass of water and feeling like your mouth is one big exposed nerve, but pain is beauty right?
Understanding the Make up of your Teeth
First, it is important to understand what makes up your teeth. The outside layer of your teeth, which is a hard, protective layer, is called enamel. Your enamel is the part of your teeth that is visible and is what people see when you smile. This is the layer that you aim to whiten when using a whitening product.
Other than making your smile look great, enamel’s main purpose is to protect your teeth. Enamel is the hardest part of your body, even harder than your bones.
Unfortunately, enamel can chip and crack pretty easy, and can erode away when exposed to acid for long periods of time. Tooth decay, which you have heard of, means that your enamel is eroding and dissolving away.
Now that we understand enamel, lets move on to the next layer.
The next layer which is underneath and protected by your enamel is called dentin.
Dentin is made up of minerals, proteins, and water and has a yellowish tint to it. Dentin cannot be whitened, and this is why it is important to take good care of your enamel so that your dentin is not exposed, making your teeth appear permanently yellow.
The purpose of dentin is to coat and protect the pulp of your teeth. The pulp is the 3rd layer of your teeth and is made of blood vessels and nerves. Dentin contains tiny tunnels called dentinal tubules and these tunnels run from the pulp of your teeth out through the dentin to the enamel.
The next layer of your teeth as we mentioned above is called the pulp, which is located in the center of your tooth. Unlike the two layers above, this layer is soft and is made up of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissues.
The pulp is responsible for the creation of secondary dentin to protect it, is responsible for sensory actions such as warning when dentin is damaged and temperature changes. The pulp also keeps your teeth nourished, preventing them from becoming brittle and breaking.
There are more layers of your teeth, but those 3 are the essential layers when trying to understand why your teeth become sensitive after whitening them.
Now that you have a good understanding of the make up of your teeth, it is important to know why your teeth look stained or yellow.
Determine Why your Teeth Appear Yellow or Stained
The first thing you need to determine is are your teeth yellow because your enamel is stained from years of coffee drinking, or are your teeth yellow because your enamel has been worn down or eroded away and your dentin is showing through?
As we mentioned, dentin has a yellowish tint which is more yellow in some people than others. If your teeth are yellow due to dentin showing, then using a teeth whitening product is not a good idea for several reasons. The first being that dentin cannot be whitened, so you will see no improvements. The second being, it will be very painful and you run the risk of damaging the pulp of your teeth. So essentially, it will be a big waste of time, money, and you will be left in major pain.
If your teeth are yellow due to the fact your enamel has become stained, then using an at home whitening product or having your teeth professionally whitened can and more than likely will show decent improvements. Hence the reason why teeth whitening is becoming more and more popular.
The Main Reason your Teeth Become Sensitive After Whitening Them
If the reason your teeth are yellow is due to your dentin showing, then it is pretty simple. The whitening product is being placed directly on your dentin causing a more severe sensitivity issue as opposed to if you had enamel protecting your dentin.
This allows a direct path for the whitening product to get into the pulp layer of your teeth through the microscopic tunnels in your dentin. So essentially the bleaching agent has a direct line to the nerves of your teeth, making the sensitivity feel almost unbearable. It is advised if the sensitivity is very painful and does not go away after a day to immediately stop your whitening procedure.
On the other hand if your teeth are yellow due to stained enamel, the sensitivity should be much less severe and should go away after a few hours or a day.
The reason your teeth become sensitive if you do have enamel, is because the whitening product you are using makes your tooth’s enamel temporarily permeable, which means some of the whitening product seeps through your enamel into your dentin.
It then travels through the tunnels of your dentin into the pulp of your teeth where the nerves are. This is why you experience that sensitive feeling.
How Long the Sensitivity Lasts Depends on a Few Things
The first factor determining how long tooth sensitivity will last after whitening is how much enamel you have covering your dentin. If you have a lot of enamel and take good care of your teeth, then there is a chance you will experience no sensitivity at all.
If you have an average amount of enamel, then you will probably experience mild sensitivity that will more than likely fade away after a few hours.
If you have little enamel, then you will experience a more harsh sensitivity that could last a day or so. In this case, it is a good idea to skip days between your whitening routine.
If you have no enamel and your dentin is showing, the sensitivity will be very harsh and painful and you should stop using the product immediately.
Another factor is the strength and ingredients of the whitening product you are using. Most teeth whitening products contain a bleaching agent that includes hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. The higher the concentrate, the more potent and stronger the product is.
For example, a product that contains a 10% concentrate of bleaching agent will create less sensitivity than a product that has 38%.
How to Lessen or Prevent Tooth Sensitivity While Whitening
The best way to prevent sensitivity while whitening your teeth is to use a DIY teeth whitening product such as Teeth Whitening 4 You.
This is the best product for those who have very sensitive teeth, but still wish to achieve a whiter smile. This solution uses 100% completely safe all natural whitening ingredients and allows you to whiten your teeth at a much cheaper price than over the counter products or professional services.
Another way to help with sensitivity is to use a desensitizing toothpaste. This helps strengthen and repair your enamel, making it harder for the whitening product to reach your dentin. It is a good idea to begin using this a few months before you plan on whitening your teeth in order to properly strengthen your enamel for the whitening process.
Another way to lessen sensitivity is to eliminate foods with high acidity content. The acid in foods weakens your enamel, especially if you consume them often and let the acid sit on your teeth for long periods of time. It is important to eat foods with low acidity levels along side foods with high acidity levels to offset the acid. Also, make sure you drink water when eating foods high in acid.
It is a good idea to cut down on foods high in acid at least 3 months before you plan on whitening your teeth. This allows your enamel time to repair and strengthen before whitening.
Finally, as we have mentioned, if the sensitivity is extreme and long lasting, more than likely your dentin is exposed and you should stop your whitening routine immediately and consult your dentist.
If the sensitivity bothers you too much, then you might want to try the diy method mentioned above and see how that works for you.
If you are just starting out, it is a good idea to start with a whitening product that has a low whitening agent % to see how your teeth react. If there are no issues, you can move your way up to stronger products until you find a nice threshold.
Remember, there is nothing wrong with skipping days between applications, this gives your teeth a break and allows your enamel to repair before the next application.
If you are unsure which route to take, we recommend consulting your dentist and asking for advice.