Pain After Teeth Whitening

Undergoing teeth whitening may get you closer to that dazzling bright smile that you’ve been wanting, but it may also come at an additional price – teeth sensitivity.

Teeth sensitivity is the uncomfortable sensation of a quick sharp wave of searing pain that occurs  when teeth are exposed (usually) to cold or hot water. There are many causes of teeth sensitivity but for this article i’ll be talking only about teeth sensitivity as a result of teeth whitening (or teeth bleaching).

Pain After Teeth Whitening

Teeth sensitivity following teeth whitening is one of the most common side effects of teeth whitening. If you’re experiencing it as a result of teeth whitening it doesn’t directly mean that you have a serious dental problem, in fact most of the time it’s just a side effect of a perfectly healthy tooth.

Mentioned below are some very useful tips to prevent or reduce the discomfort of teeth sensitivity, so make sure to read on if you’re complaining of it, or want to get teeth whitening but want minimum the side effects of teeth sensitivity.

Why do teeth hurt after teeth whitening?

Teeth whitening (either professionally at a dentist’s office, or in your home using a home whitening kit) exposes your teeth to an abrasive, most commonly hydrogen peroxide. This abrasive is essentially a weak acid and it whitens teeth by penetrating into the outer layer of the tooth surface, the enamel, removing stain-causing debris and foreign particles.

As the hydrogen peroxide works, the inner surface of the tooth (dentin) starts to become more exposed, and as it is closer to the nerve, it causes a stimulus to the nerve and causes brief “pain” and discomfort known as teeth sensitivity.

If you’ve ever felt discomfort or slight pain when biting into a lemon or orange, then the sensation is similar as citrus is acidic and attacks the outer layer of your teeth, agitating the inner layer and thus causing sensitivity.

Teeth sensitivity due to teeth whitening may occur immediately during the process of teeth bleaching itself, or it may happen as a side effect of the teeth whitening process, in either way, it’s not considered as a serious dental issue, and mostly should be expected as part of any teeth whitening treatment that includes an abrasive.

How to reduce teeth sensitivity from teeth whitening

Teeth sensitivity from teeth whitening can be dramatically reduced by following certain measures. If you’re about to undergo a teeth whitening process, make sure you read the below very carefully to reduce any possible teeth sensitivity following your teeth whitening treatment to a minimum:

Ensure proper oral hygiene:

Even though you may be experiencing tooth sensitivity, the most important thing to keep doing is to ensure proper oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day. During the period that you are undergoing teeth whitening, use a toothbrush with soft bristles and use gentle strokes in order to avoid irritation and damage to your enamel.

Use a high fluoride toothpaste:

Before starting your teeth whitening treatment use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth for 1-2 weeks prior. This toothpaste or gel will usually have a slightly higher dose of fluoride that will promote mineralization in the outer surface of the tooth strengthening the enamel and hopefully minimising the risk of teeth sensitivity.

Stick to the teeth whitening package instructions:

If you’re undergoing teeth whitening treatment alone by using a home teeth whitening kit, make sure you are following the instructions exactly as they are listed on the package. Don’t ever wear your teeth whitening device for a longer duration or more often than written by the manufacturer’s instructions.

Exposing your teeth to the whitening agent for more time than required will absolutely not make your teeth whiter, neither will it speed up the whitening process. Doing this will damage your teeth and will cause pain and teeth sensitivity

Consider reducing the amount of times you wear your whitening product:

If you’re still feeling discomfort and sensitivity even after sticking to the instructions on the teeth whitening package (or the one’s given to you by your dentist), then consider reducing the number of teeth whitening sessions you are undergoing.

If you wear your teeth whitening devices daily, then maybe consider cutting down to wearing them every other day, or a couple of days per week.

With some teeth whitening kits, it may even be enough to just use them once or twice per week. So make sure not to overuse your whitening product otherwise you increase the risk of damage and sensitivity.

Choose another teeth whitening method:

Consider using a teeth whitening kit with a lower concentration of hydrogen peroxide whitening agent. Home whitening kits usually have a concentration of 5-10% hydrogen peroxide, and that concentration should normally not cause any problems. If your whitening kit has a higher concentration than that then you may consider using a different one with a lower concentration.

Avoid sweets and trigger foods/drinks:

During your teeth whitening treatment, consider limiting your intake of sweet and cold drinks/food to a minimum. During this time your teeth are extra sensitive and so protecting them from anything that could cause pain or discomfort is a wise decision.

Try not eating or drinking (or at least seriously reducing) any ice-cream or cold drinks during your teeth whitening process to protect your teeth from any sensitivity.

Don’t brush after your whitening

Don’t brush your teeth directly after your teeth whitening session. You may cause wear and abrasion to the surface of your teeth as the outer layer has just been exposed to the abrasive for a long period of time.

Instead, after your whitening session make sure to rinse your teeth thoroughly with water, and give it 30 minutes to an hour before brushing your teeth. Use soft circular strokes and a toothbrush with soft bristles to avoid any damage to the enamel.

Always consult your dentist if there is excessive pain that affects your everyday activities or prevents you from being able to maintain good oral hygiene. If your teeth sensitivity continues for more than 2-3 weeks, then this will need professional attention.



Written by Dr. Khaled Mahmoud

Khaled Mahmoud completed his dental education and obtained his Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) in 2017. His interests lie in cosmetic dentistry and non-surgical facial aesthetics. He is active in dental research, contemporary cosmetic materials and techniques, and has been a member of numerous public health outreach programs.