Does Professional Tooth Whitening Hurt?

When you ask people what they most want to change about their smile, the answer is clear — they want whiter teeth

Dr. William M. Schneider has over 25 years of experience providing teeth whitening for his dental patients in Walnut Creek, California. One question he gets asked a lot, though, is whether the process hurts.

While it’s true you might have some sensitivity with the treatment, the answer is no, it doesn’t cause any pain. Keep reading to find out more.

Why aren’t my teeth white?

You’re born with pearly white teeth, so why don’t you still have them now? Life, that’s why. Stains build up over time, due both to intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

Intrinsic (internal) factors are mostly due to age. Inside the hard enamel shell, your tooth’s core tissue, known as dentin, tends to become more yellow over time. As you age, too, the enamel becomes thinner, allowing the yellow color to show through. It’s a double whammy.

There are also a number of extrinsic (external) causes of discoloration. The big culprits are:

  • Food and drink that stain (e.g., coffee, red wine, blueberries)
  • Tobacco
  • Certain medications, like tetracycline
  • Chemotherapy

Poor oral hygiene, meaning inadequate brushing or flossing, can lead to decay, which also can lead to teeth discoloration.

How does tooth whitening work?

Tooth whitening is a dental treatment that bleaches your teeth to remove the dingy yellow brought on by aging, as well as the ugly stains built up on your tooth enamel.

Crowns, veneers, and even fillings aren’t affected by the process, which is why Dr. Schneider applies non-vital whitening to those areas and vital whitening to your natural tooth structure, for an even appearance.

No matter what type of whitening system you use, it’s going to contain some form of a peroxide-based bleaching agent. 

Treatment kits from your dentist that you use at home contain from 3% to 20% of carbamide or hydrogen peroxide; in-office procedures generally contain from 15% to 43%. In both cases, the whitening gel is placed in trays that fit over your teeth.

Teeth whitening isn’t a permanent treatment, since you continue to eat and drink. You can enhance the treatment’s longevity by limiting the dark drinks and colored berries and maintaining good oral hygiene.

Does professional tooth whitening hurt?

Tooth whitening isn’t inherently painful, but it can cause some sensitivity to your teeth and gums.

One problem that often comes up is a patient leaving strong bleaching solution on their teeth for too long, reasoning that the longer it’s there, the whiter their teeth become. 

In fact, with a higher peroxide concentration, you should actually apply the gel for a shorter period of time, since the bleach can dehydrate your teeth and increase tooth sensitivity.

Some people also find their gums become a bit irritated while using the whitening kits. If that’s the case with you, there are things you can do to decrease the irritation and general sensitivity.

Follow instructions

Never use teeth whitening solution longer than recommended; it can burn your gums and sensitize your teeth.

Cut back

Use whitener once every other day, and/or apply the solution for a shorter time to clear up symptoms.

Take a pain reliever

Pre-treat to prevent sensitivity symptoms from surfacing.

Stay away from cold

The teeth whitening process can exacerbate hot and cold sensitivity issues.

Use fluoride

Rinses and/or sensitivity toothpaste help desensitize teeth. In-office fluoride treatments before or during whitening can stave off pain.

If you’re having problems, let Dr. Schneider know and get his advice. The good news is that while tooth sensitivity during whitening is common, it’s only temporary — about 24 to 48 hours — and the bright, white smile on the other end is absolutely worth it.

If you’re interested in tooth whitening and want to know if it’s right for you, contact our office to schedule a consultation with Dr. Schneider. Call us at 925-935-2700 or book online today.

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