Professional teeth-whitening treatments - Side effects.

Is there any pain involved with in-office whitening?

You don't have to be overly concerned that whitening treatments performed by your dentist will cause discomfort.

But just like with any peroxide-based bleaching technique side effects can occur, either during and/or after your whitening session.


A) Side effects - During treatment.

a) Tooth sensitivity.

During your whitening session, it's possible that you'll notice some level of sensitivity or discomfort with your teeth. If so, just let your dentist know.

Depending on the nature and severity of your symptoms, your dentist might decide to cut your bleaching session short.

b) Gum-tissue irritation.

The peroxide bleaching agents found in in-office whiteners are caustic in nature and can be very irritating to the soft tissues of the mouth.

This is why a dentist goes to such great lengths to isolate their patient's teeth (by way of placing a dental dam) before the whitener is applied. An important safety feature of in-office technique is limiting the peroxide whitener to tooth contact only.

Why dentists don't "numb up" whitening patients.

If the potential for experiencing pain exists, you might wonder why a dentist doesn't just go ahead and numb up a person's mouth before the bleaching process is begun. The reason they don't is because by not using anesthetic they make the whitening procedure safer.

If a patient's teeth become sensitive during their whitening treatment, it serves as a warning sign that possibly their session should be cut short, before the nerve tissue inside their teeth becomes seriously aggravated.

Equally important, the presence of discomfort can warn the dentist that the dental dam is allowing peroxide to come into contact with the patient's gum tissue, lips or cheeks. If their mouth had been numbed, these warning signals would not be available.

B) Side effects - After treatment.

a) Thermal sensitivity.

After your whitening session, you may experience increased tooth sensitivity to hot and cold stimuli such as foods and beverages.

In most cases, this type of sensitivity is self-limiting and will dissipate within a matter of days. To be on the safe side, however, you should always feel free to report any changes or side effects you notice to your dentist so they can evaluate them and advise you accordingly.

Professional remedies.

One remedy for tooth thermal sensitivity is the application of fluoride to the surface of the affected teeth.

(One of the final steps of in-office bleaching can be for the dentist to perform a fluoride treatment. Doing so can help to minimize the level of thermal sensitivity their patient experiences during the days following their treatment.)

Toothpaste for sensitive teeth.

Home remedies.

Another remedy for teeth that are sensitive to hot and cold involves the use of over-the-counter toothpaste.

Some brands, typically labeled "for sensitive teeth," contain the ingredient potassium nitrate. Continued use of this type of product, over a period of some days and weeks, usually helps to control thermal sensitivity.

b) Tooth pain and discomfort.

A patient may find that they have experienced little if any tooth discomfort during their whitening session. But some hours after, they begin to notice some pain or discomfort that ranges from slight to moderate intensity. It may come in sudden, sharp episodes or else as a continuous dull ache.

This type of tooth pain is typically a result of the tooth's nerve having become inflamed due to one of the following sources of irritation:

As with any type of post-treatment sensitivity, you should contact your dentist so they can determine if the symptoms you are experiencing lie within normal limits. Doing so also gives them an opportunity to make a treatment recommendation, if needed.

Home remedies.

In most cases, this type of discomfort is self-limiting and will subside within just a few days. Dentists often recommend the use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin as a remedy. (In all cases you must read the labeling found on any drug you consider taking, so to make sure it is an appropriate medication for you.)

Minimize side effects by taking an anti-inflammatory medication before your whitening treatments.

Preventing whitening side effects.

Anti-inflammatory medications.

Dental studies have confirmed that the potential for many post-treatment side effects can be minimized if the patient takes an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug (ibuprofen, aspirin) prior to having their in-office session performed.

Ask your dentist for their advice, and for a dosing recommendation. (In all cases you should read the labeling found on any drug you consider taking, so to make sure it is an appropriate medication for you.)


What are the safety concerns with professional-grade tooth whiteners?

The peroxide-based tooth whiteners that dentists use when performing in-office treatments are formulated using the same types of compounds as at-home products. Collectively, these agents are called peroxides and this page discusses the general safety concerns associated with their use.

There are, however, a number of factors that make in-office bleaching technique totally unique and as a result modify which issues are of the greatest concern.

  • The peroxide content found in-office whiteners is typically much higher, possibly 10 times so. (Which tends to increase concerns about some issues.)
  • But this technique includes steps to insure that the whitener is only applied to the patient's teeth. It's not in contact with soft oral tissues. None of it is swallowed. (This, in a very big way, removes some issues from concern completely.)
In-office tooth whitening.
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