Tooth whitening/bleaching is a common procedure performed as part of cosmetic dentistry. It is cosmetic since there is no medical or health reason to whiten teeth. Just the need to have a nice, shiny, white-toothed smile is reason enough. This procedure can be performed at the dentist's or at home using whitening strips and other such tools. A side-effect noticed by those who have had their teeth whitened, is that the teeth become sensitive and hence on contact with any stimuli, even air, they can ache. This sort of sensitivity can occur, whether the whitening procedure is done at home or at the dentist's. How does teeth whitening sensitivity occur?
Human teeth are encased in gums. Inside each tooth is a vast range of dentinal tubules. These thin tubes connect the tooth nerve to the external surface of the tooth and are filled with fluid. When this fluid moves, the sensation makes the teeth sensitive. Food, external substances, in short, anything that enters the mouth, leaves a trace and such traces from the saliva, block the external ends of these tubes, thus hampering the fluids from moving up. But powerful chemicals used in bleaching or whitening teeth, wash away and destroy these blocking substances, thus cleansing the surface of the teeth. Such cleanliness means the fluids can now move freely and hence the teeth turn sensitive. So a common consequence of having sparkling white teeth is that your teeth are now too sensitive.
Dealing with Sensitive Teeth After a Whitening Procedure
Use desensitizing agents
Similar to local anesthetic and its numbing effect, desensitizing agents can help reduce and ease the pain that comes through sensitive teeth after the whitening procedure. These drugs can be present in the whitening bleach itself or can be separate medicines to be applied after the whitening procedure, by the dentist. Fluoride and potassium nitrate are the two most popular drugs of this type. Oxalate is another type and is used to rebuild the dental plugs destroyed by the whitening procedure. For whitening techniques at home, some over-the-counter desensitizing medicines are also available. Both over-the-counter and in-office drugs come in the form of pastes, gels and liquids, to be applied either through a nozzle or with a swab. They are also sold in the form of mouthwash. Examples of desensitizing drugs include AcquaSeal™, UltraEZ ® and SensiBlock®.
Use anti-inflammatory drugs
Pain-killers and anti-inflammatory medication designed to reduce pain, can help soothe sensitive teeth. They work on reducing the swelling of the tooth nerves, which are agitated due to the chemicals from the whitening or bleaching agent used on the teeth. With reduction in the swollen area, the nerves stop tingling and pain gradually reduces. Please take any such medication only after consulting your dentist. Do not take any pain-killers based on word-of-mouth advice or casual diagnosis. Your dentist will be aware of what chemicals were used in the whitening procedure and hence will prescribe the correct medication to prevent any accidental interference between medication.
Watch what you eat and drink
After you get your car washed and it's all clean and shiny, would you drive it through a garbage dump? Nope. Apply a similar logic to your newly minted but sensitive teeth and do not eat hot or cold foods for sometime. Your teeth will experience thermal sensitivity, i.e sensitivity to extreme temperature stimuli for sometime. So steaming bowls of soup, noodles, hot coffee and tea are definite no-nos. Ice-cream, iced-tea, frozen desserts, anything that has been in the freezer for more than 20 minutes, should be kept out for sometime before eating. Anything imbibed, drunk or eaten should be at room temperature only.
Be smart with your oral hygiene
Use a toothbrush with ultra-soft bristles. Specially designed toothbrushes for sensitive teeth can help minimize the pain and preserve the enamel on your whitened teeth. To soften the bristles further, wash the brush in tepid water before brushing. Try using toothpastes and mouthwash products meant for sensitive teeth instead of regular toothpaste. Toothpastes containing potassium nitrate, as part of their chemical ingredients, will aid in easing sensitivity. Rinse or gargle your mouth using lukewarm water.
Disclaimer: This WellnessKeen article is for informative purposes only and does not, in any way, intend to replace the advice of a medical expert.
The sensitivity in whitened teeth is temporary and should disappear within 1-3 days. Such a side-effect is why tooth whitening treatment is not ideally recommended for those with sensitive teeth and not allowed for children below 16. Prior to taking any medication, please consult a trained professional.