Whitening teeth that are prone to sensitivity can be tricky. You want the look of beautiful white teeth, but you don’t want the blinding pain that can accompany it. Thankfully, post-whitening sensitivity can often be prevented or treated with the correct tools and techniques. And the best thing is that you can do it yourself at home – making your treatment completely customizable and much more cost-effective.
- 1) Preparation
- 2) Treatment Day
- 3) After Your Treatment
Below I’ll be explaining the techniques and products that allow me to whiten my super sensitive teeth at home without pain or discomfort. I’ve been whitening my teeth this way for over ten years and developed this method after a horribly painful experience caused by overbleaching.
My method utilizes a peroxide, which is one of the most effective teeth whiteners there is and the same one used in dentists’ offices. Keep in mind that compared to other whitening treatments, this method does take longer to see results, but you will see them.
*Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. Even if all precautions are taken, some may still experience sensitivity as we are all built differently.
Before you perform any whitening treatments, you want your teeth to be as clean and healthy as possible. Remember that the preparation and after-care that comes with teeth whitening is just as important as the treatment itself, especially if you are trying to avoid sensitivity.
Fix any existing oral issues
If there’s any question regarding the health of your teeth or mouth in general (such as cavities, gingivitis, or mouth sores), it needs to be taken care of well in advance of your whitening treatment. NEVER try to whiten your teeth if you are already in pain. Doing so will just make it worse.
Make teeth as clean as possible
Cleaning your teeth increases the chance that your teeth will bleach evenly and can even lead to whiter results. The best way to do this is to have a professional cleaning, but another option is to invest in a good electric toothbrush. Although it’s not as good as a professional cleaning, it can be a very effective means of removing surface buildup, especially in hard-to-reach areas.
Gather your materials
Below is a list of items you will need for your whitening treatments along with explanations as to why they are needed.
At least one month prior to beginning your treatments, you should begin brushing with a toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth. Doing so will help strengthen and protect your teeth from the peroxide found in the whitening agent.
I use Sensodyne Pronamel which contains 5% potassium nitrate (an anti-hypersensitivity agent) and 0.25% sodium fluoride (a compound that forms a protective layer on your teeth). Whichever toothpaste you choose, make sure you follow the included directions. Sensodyne, for example, works best when you don’t rinse your mouth right after brushing, which gives it more time to work.
When you whiten your teeth using a gel whitening method, it’s highly recommended that you invest in custom teeth trays. Trays that are custom fit will not rub uncomfortably against the sides of your mouth (like generic trays can). And they will ensure that the entire surface area of each tooth is covered completely and receiving an equal amount of gel.
The trays I use are from Sporting Smiles. For about $70 (including all shipping charges), they will send you a kit so you can make a mold of your teeth at home. Once the mold is sent back to them, they use it to create a set of trays just for you. There are several other companies that offer this service, so you can shop around and pick the one you like best.
Whitening gel (10% carbamide peroxide)
When it comes to whitening gels you want to choose one with carbamide peroxide as the active ingredient and you want to start with the lowest strength possible. I use Opalescence teeth whitening gel in 10%. Keep in mind that a lower strength product like this can give you the same whitening results as a higher strength one (such as 30%) – it just takes longer.
Another product you need to have on hand is remineralization gel. Remineralization gel generally contains a combination of potassium nitrate and fluoride. Its purpose is to decrease tooth sensitivity and to replenish minerals lost in the whitening process. Like the whitening agent, the remineralization gel comes in syringes which you apply using the trays.
2) Treatment Day
Treatment day will include the application of the whitening gel followed by a remineralization treatment. Afterward, you will need to take special care of your teeth by avoiding brushing and other possible irritants. This is explained in detail below.
Decide your treatment time
Before you begin your first treatment you need to decide two things. The first is whether or not you want to do both your upper and lower teeth together or just one at a time. If you are really nervous about pain, you may want to treat just one at a time. When I first started, I would always treat my top teeth first and then do my lower teeth the next day (which tend to be more sensitive).
Second, you need to decide how long you want to leave the gel on. I would recommend that you go no higher than 30 minutes for your first treatment. If you are really concerned about sensitivity, you can start lower with 10-15 minutes.
Perform the whitening treatment
- Gently brush your teeth. Wait 30 minutes before beginning the next step in case the brushing caused any irritation to your teeth and gums.
- Prepare your trays by applying a small bead of whitening gel in each tooth depression area. This short YouTube video does a great job showing the amount of gel you should be applying.
- Insert the trays and gently press them against your teeth. You should see the gel spread out over the entire area of each tooth. If any excess gel comes out of the edges, you can wipe it off with a paper towel.
- Wait the amount of time you decided on earlier and then remove your trays.
- Rinse your mouth out with tepid water several times to remove all the gel from your teeth. Sometimes I use my finger to gently aid in the process since it tends to stick. You can also use a very soft toothbrush, but be very gentle.
- Clean your trays using cool water and your toothbrush.
Note: If at any time you experience pain during your treatment, you can remove the trays at your own discretion and apply the remineralization gel (which is the next step). Don’t feel discouraged if you need to do so, you can always try a different technique.
Apply the remineralization gel
The remineralization gel should be used after each whitening treatment. Apply the gel using the trays, repeating the same process you did with the whitening gel. Just make sure the trays are clean and dry before you use them. Leave the remineralization gel on your teeth for 5-15 minutes and then remove it the same way you did previously.
The first day or two after bleaching is when your teeth are at their most sensitive. Make sure to avoid foods and beverages that can stain your teeth and stay away from anything too acidic. For a great list of what to avoid click here.
3) After Your Treatment
In the post-treatment period, you want to evaluate your results (pain and whitening level) so you can make any adjustments if necessary. Keep in mind that you probably won’t notice a difference until you have completed several treatments.
Note your results
Make sure you record the date of your treatment, the strength of the gel, and the treatment length. Doing so prevents you from doing another treatment too soon or leaving it on for too long. I usually put it right on my calendar. If you want, you can also take photos of your teeth or use a teeth whitening chart to track your progress.
Plan your next treatment
The treatment length (the time the gel is left on your teeth) can be extended for the next treatment if everything went well. I usually increase my time by 15-minute intervals. So 30 minutes for the first treatment, 45 minutes for the second, and so on. Personally, the maximum I have ever left the gel on is for four hours. Anything longer than that makes my bottom teeth ache too much. But everyone is different, so you may be able to leave the gel on for much longer.
I like to wait about two weeks in between treatments to be safe and to give my teeth adequate time to recover. I recommend you do the same or wait even longer when first starting out. And remember, never whiten your teeth while they are still sensitive as it will just make it worse.
You will continue doing treatments until you achieve your desired whiteness. Keep in mind that this will vary from individual to individual. Not everyone can achieve the same level of whiteness. This is determined by both your genetics and the severity of your stains.
Post treatment sensitivity
If you performed all of the above steps and still experienced painful sensitivity, you can try one of the following methods:
- Apply the remineralization gel both before and after the whitening treatment. Doing so might give your teeth extra protection from the peroxide.
- Ask your dentist about prescription-strength toothpaste that is specially designed for sensitive teeth. It is stronger than regular commercial toothpaste and may protect your enamel better.
- Try using a lower strength peroxide without the trays. Mix 3% hydrogen peroxide (found in drug stores) with baking soda and brush your teeth with it for 1-2 minutes. Check out this article from HealthLine for more information and directions.
- For some people, even the lowest strength peroxide is still too strong. In this case, you may want to ditch peroxide altogether and switch to an all-natural whitening product. These products contain ingredients like coconut oil, baking soda, and activated charcoal. Keep in mind that these ingredients only work on surface stains but they can still lighten your teeth by several shades.
I encourage you to be cautious – especially when first starting out. In other words, GO SLOW and gently adjust your treatments to meet your own needs. In the meantime, continue using your desensitizing toothpaste and try your best to avoid foods and beverages that stain your teeth. If you need touch-up treatments and you haven’t whitened your teeth in a long time, I would start the process over again, starting with 30 minutes for your first treatment and working your way up.
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Were you able to successfully whiten your teeth with this method? Questions? Please let me know in the comments!