Everyone wants a bright, healthy-looking smile. This is what makes teeth whitening so popular, whether it’s at the dentist’s office or using kits you buy at the store. What people don’t want is tooth sensitivity, which unfortunately comes along with whitening for many people.

If you get sensitivity, you might think of turning to an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. Unfortunately, a new review published in the Journal of the American Dental Association shows that pain relievers don’t work for whitening-related sensitivity. However, we have solutions that can reduce your sensitivity if you get treatments at our office. That makes in-office teeth whitening a better choice than store-bought kits.

Pain Reliever pills falling over. While you may grab one of these when you need help, they don't control Sensitivity Linked to Teeth Whitening

A Large Review

Because this is an important question, and a logical potential solution to the problem of tooth sensitivity, many studies have been done to determine whether certain pain relievers could help with tooth sensitivity. To come up with a definitive answer, researchers looked at over 5000 studies and selected 11 randomized clinical trials (the gold standard of evidence when it comes to medicine) that looked at several different types of pain relievers. The studies all looked at whitening that uses 35 to 38% hydrogen peroxide concentrations, the high level of whitening compound used during in-office teeth whitening. The studies looked at different potential drugs, including a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers, including:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Dexamethasone (steroid)
  • Codeine (opiate)
  • Etoricoxib (not approved in the US)
  • Naproxen (Aleve)

As you can see, this covers a pretty wide range of types of medication, including more standard OTC pain relievers, different anti-inflammatory medications, and even narcotics.

However, the review showed that none of these pain relievers were really effective at reducing sensitivity. Sensitivity one hour after treatment and 24 hours after treatment was not statistically different between people who used these pain medications and those who got placebo.

Researchers rated the quality of evidence as “high” for all outcomes. There was little evidence of bias in nine of the studies–very rare in this type of review, to have so many unbiased studies. The only significant limitation of the review was that the studies focused on relatively young patients, those with an average age of about 24.

How We Can Help You Avoid Sensitivity

The pain relievers considered in the study are often very effective at relieving discomfort from a dental appointment, so why don’t they work for tooth sensitivity? It’s because the mechanism for tooth sensitivity is different. The whitening compounds that remove stains from your teeth can also remove minerals from your tooth enamel. This reduces the protection and insulation that enamel provides to the sensitive nerve inside the tooth. Over time, your body can naturally replace the lost minerals, so it’s not a concern for the health of your teeth, if you follow instructions for whitening. But the short-term sensitivity can be a nuisance.

Fortunately, we have solutions to combat sensitivity. First, we can help you maintain good, strong enamel so that you’re less likely to develop sensitivity. We can also modify the whiteners or provide follow-up treatments that restore lost minerals so you experience less sensitivity.

And if sensitivity is a big problem, it might be time to consider other whitening options, such as veneers, which can give you decades of beautiful smiles without whitening treatments.

A Bright Smile with Less Sensitivity in St. Louis

If you are looking to brighten your smile, but want to avoid the sensitivity that can come with it, please call (314) 678-7876 today for an appointment with St. Louis cosmetic dentist Dr. Chris Hill at Smile On Dental Studio.