Pretty painful: why does tooth bleaching hurt?

Med Hypotheses. 2010 May;74(5):835-40. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.11.044. Epub 2009 Dec 31.


Vital bleaching procedures are a popular means of improving the appearance of discolored teeth. There is a wide array of whitening products for home and dental office use; all involves placing peroxide containing gels or solutions in contact with the teeth. In order to whiten teeth peroxide has to be able to penetrate tooth structure and oxidize colored compounds in the dentin. Unfortunately beauty comes with a price; many patients undergoing peroxide based whitening procedures complain of bleaching sensitivity (BS) arising in the treated teeth. In BS, pain can occur in healthy intact teeth without any provoking stimulus. Currently the mechanism of nociceptors activation in BS is unknown. A more common form of dental pain-dentin sensitivity (DS) occurs when stimuli such as cold or tactile stimulation contact areas of exposed dentin in otherwise healthy teeth. In DS, stimulation of the dentin results in fluid shifts in the dentinal tubules, these fluid shifts activate mechanosensitive nerve endings in the deep dentin and pulp. Since many aspects of BS and DS symptoms differ, it is hypothesized that that the mechanism of pain generation differs for these two conditions. Recently the functional properties of a chemosensitive ion channel-TRPA1 have been described. This channel is activated by a variety of oxidizer compounds including hydrogen peroxide. Pulpal sensory afferents express TRPA1. It is hypothesized that direct activation of intradental nerve activity via TRPA1 is the mechanism of BS pain. If this theory were correct, tooth sensitivity treatments that reduce the excitability of the intradental nerves such as potassium salts, would be the treatment of choice for BS.

MeSH terms

  • Calcium Channels / metabolism*
  • Dentin Sensitivity / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / toxicity*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neurons, Afferent / metabolism
  • TRPA1 Cation Channel
  • Tooth Bleaching / adverse effects*
  • Toothache / etiology*
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels / metabolism*


  • Calcium Channels
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • TRPA1 Cation Channel
  • TRPA1 protein, human
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels
  • Hydrogen Peroxide