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What Actually Causes The Sensitivity During in Clinic Teeth Whitening Treatments?

While the results from teeth whitening can be fantastic, and most people are happy with the results, one of the often reported side effects of whitening treatments is sensitivity. For most people, these short, but sharp, pain bursts usually subside within a few hours or days. However, for some people they can last for a long time afterwards and cause severe discomfort. In this article, we look at what causes tooth sensitivity, and why you should always visit a professional clinic for guidance and treatment. Any good dentist will guide you through the process, and never use a treatment your teeth can’t handle.

The tooth structure

Your teeth are formed of layers, much like an onion. On the outside you have the tough enamel, but inside is a soft layer called Dentin. Compared to white enamel, dentin has a much yellower shade and so when the enamel is worn out or weakened, your teeth gain a yellower tinge, additionally, drinks such as coffee can stain the white enamel, also leading to discoloration. Dentinal tubes in the Dentin layer are plugged, which prevents sensitivity, but when these are exposed or not working, you get the horrible sensation of pain shooting through your teeth. Depending on how worn down your enamel already is, you could feel pain early on in the bleaching process.

A chemical reaction

Of course, many people who visit the dentist regularly, and take care to floss and brush, may be confused about why they have dental sensitivity if their teeth are well maintained. Most teeth whitening relies on a chemical reaction, usually involving hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, to release oxygen which lightens and removes stains from the enamel. However, this reaction is also thought to prevent the aforementioned dentinal tubes from functioning as they are intended to, which means liquid can flow through your teeth and you will experience pain. This has been the subject of several clinical trials, and a good dental clinic can assess your risk level.

Irritation of mucous membranes

You probably remember from high school chemistry that Hydrogen peroxide is an acid, and as such can cause burning and damage. In a dental clinic the concentrations used are generally at 10%-20% which is perfectly safe to use. However, less reputable clinics may use more than this to push for a more drastic change. This damages the enamel, and is corrosive to your gums – meaning the sensitivity you are experiencing is actually a chemical burn. This is a good reason to avoid using non-certified home kits, and always visit a clinic for your treatment.

Over-bleaching and aiming too high

We all know the Hollywood smile, and the exceptionally bright white that it entails. However, depending on the shade your teeth are currently at, and any damage they’ve sustained over the years, it may be impossible for them to actually get that white. If you’re constantly using more and more powerful bleaching methods to get your ideal shade, but never reaching it, you are likely to experience sensitivity during the clinic treatment, as you’re exposing your teeth to chemicals which they aren’t able to react to.

Several dentists have reported that they think dental whitening can be addictive, and over bleaching can be a serious problem. A good whitening clinic will recommend how often you should come back for top up treatments, and will never put your tooth safety below making more money. If you’re experiencing sensitivity, think about the last time you had a treatment, does it seem like it was quite recent? The sensitivity could stem from over exposure to chemicals.

Not preventing sensitivity

Several dentists have reported that they think patients are expecting tooth whitening to be a pain free and fix-all experience, without taking adequate care of their teeth before and after treatment in the clinic. Remember that tooth whitening is only the final touch for great teeth; don’t treat it as a cover up for other problems. Ensure you are brushing and flossing every day, minimizing sugary drinks and never miss your regular check-ups.

Additionally, people may not follow the correct after care instructions, which may act against any positive results achieved. As a way of guarding against this, it is important to always ask your dentist for advice on how soon you should brush your teeth, how soon you can eat or drink and whether there is anything you should avoid in the days following treatment.


Clinical teeth whitening is a great way to finish off your look, but you have to be aware of the risks of sensitivity. Often, this will be gone within a day or two and there won’t be major discomfort. However, the chemical nature of the treatment is what leads to the sensitivity, and while this is generally very safe when performed by an experienced dentist, you must visit a reputable clinic and have a treatment that is suitable for your situation.

*The information provided in this article is not meant to be dental advice of any kind and was composed from research of information provided on the world wide web. Always consult your dentist for dental advice.

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