Gentle yet effective.
Whitening your teeth at home is challenging if you have sensitive teeth. While there are countless whitening strips, toothpastes, and other treatments on the market, those with sensitive teeth and gums need to be more cautious about the products they select.
Getting whiter, brighter teeth is all about the active ingredients, explains Kim Wright, DMD, an Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson from West Lin, Oregon. "There are two general formulas for bleaching," she tells us. "Hydrogen peroxide-based and carbamide peroxide-based, and some people have differing levels of sensitivity with each of them." The concentration of the active bleach ingredient correlates with sensitivity, she says—in other words, a formula that contains 22% carbamide peroxide will likely trigger more sensitivity than one with just 10%.
Dr. Wright also tells us that these different whitening agents can also cause two different kinds of sensitivity. "The first can be gum sensitivity from excess bleaching gel touching the gums and actually causing a slight chemical burn," she says, adding that this type of sensitivity should go away within a few days. The second form of sensitivity, however, usually comes from the tooth itself. "This is usually expressed as cold sensitivity for a few days after bleaching. If this happens, allowing more days between bleaching allows the tooth to recover."
How effective these ingredients will be in whitening also depends on what has made your teeth less-than-pearly-white in the first place. "If [stains] are from surface staining from coffee or tea, they're easily removed with any peroxide/carbamide based agent," Dr. Wright says. Stains from the the antibiotic tetracycline can take longer to lift, however. Dr. Wright also notes that there aren't any at-home methods for whitening teeth after a root canal, but your dentist can bleach them in-office.
As for when to start, Dr. Wright recommends beginning the process immediately after a professional dental cleaning. The reason? "Much of the surface stain should be gone, and you can get right to the deeper stains on the enamel."
Below, we’ve rounded up the top whitening products designed specifically for those with sensitive teeth.