Tooth whitening is a popular and effective way for people to boost their oral health-related quality of life, self-image and wellbeing. However, while it’s an effective dentist-supervised treatment , tooth whitening does carry the risk of side effects like sensitivity.
The most common ingredients used in products for tooth whitening are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide, the latter of which releases hydrogen peroxide via a chemical reaction.
Hydrogen peroxide whitens the teeth by releasing free radicals that penetrate the surface of the tooth. These highly reactive molecules bind with chromophores, or pigments that cause certain types of tooth discoloration, breaking their double bonds resulting in smaller, lighter-colored particles.
While this is an effective and reliable way to whiten the teeth, it can also trigger transient sensitivity. As free radicals diffuse through the tooth enamel, they can penetrate the dentin and then reach all the way to the pulp itself which can lead to inflammation and reversible pulpitis.
The higher the concentration of peroxide whitening agents, the higher the risk of tooth sensitivity. In fact, in one study where a 35% hydrogen peroxide solution is used for an in-office whitening treatment, sensitivity was reported in all cases.
Given the widespread popularity of whitening treatments, how can dental professionals deliver the results patients want — without the side effects they don’t want?
There are a number of ways to maximize whitening results while minimizing unpleasant side effects like sensitivity.
1. Always encourage professional supervision
The American Dental Association (ADA) Council on Scientific Affairs recommends dentist supervised whitening treatments. This helps to ensure your patients will use safe and effective products in the way they were intended, rather than using products that are too strong, or using them too frequently or incorrectly. It also means any side effects can be dealt with appropriately.
2. Offer a lower-strength, desensitizing bleaching gel
Research has shown that whitening treatments with 5% potassium nitrate as a desensitizing agent can reduce the intensity of whitening sensitivity, while still maintaining the same whitening efficacy. There is also research showing that whitening treatments with a lower concentration of hydrogen peroxide can reduce tooth sensitivity — again, without compromising color change.
3. Recommend a desensitizing toothpaste
Potassium nitrate can also be found in desensitizing toothpastes like Colgate Sensitive Toothpaste. Recommend that your patient brushes with such a toothpaste twice daily before and for the duration of their whitening treatment to reduce the risk and intensity of sensitivity. For those who already suffer from hypersensitivity, and are thus at greater risk of experiencing sensitivity from whitening, you may wish to prescribe a higher-fluoride toothpaste like PreviDent 5000 Sensitive Toothpaste.
4. Offer an on-the-spot relief
Experiencing a hypersensitivity attack during a social or work event can cause your patient anxiety, discomfort and embarrassment. You can help them to find rapid relief from whitening sensitivity no matter where they are by providing an on-the-spot topical agent like Colgate Sensitivity Relief Serum. When rubbed on to the affected teeth, this convenient serum provides almost pain relief in one minute.
Recommend new Colgate Optic White Professional Take-Home Whitening treatment. Best of all, this whitening treatment option is easy for patients to use, non-messy and designed for no sensitivity. Dramatic results are seen in 5 days,
With your professional guidance and the right product recommendations, your patients can enjoy the benefits of tooth whitening!