Teeth Whitening Horror Show

WARNING: If you do not like to read about dental work or pain, then you probably want to skip this post.

Before my Zoom teeth whitening appointment, I realized that I did not really know what was going to be happening to my teeth. Was it a gel? Was it laser? I briefly looked at the Zoom website. The information was general, and I could not find step-by-step information. When I got there, Sarah was ready for me. I told her that, when I’m afraid of something, I try to ignore it as long as possible instead of educating myself on what’s going to happen to me. I don’t want to be afraid, but by avoiding information, I make things worse for myself. Deep down, I think that, if I know what will happen, that I will obsess about it, and I imagine that to be worse than what I do to myself: bury myself in ignorance, avoidance, and worry.

Sarah sat me down in a chair and explained what would happen. First, a mouth guard would be inserted and my mouth packed with gauze to soak up the saliva. Next, a barrier gel would be applied to the gums and roots of the teeth to buffer them from the whitening gel. After the gel was brushed onto my teeth, an ultraviolet lamp would be positioned over my mouth and turned on for 15 minute sessions. Between each session, the old whitening gel would be removed and a new layer would be applied before putting the lamp back in position. The final steps before starting the whitening was to place a cloth barrier around the mouth and to give me a pair of orange plastic glasses to protect my eyes from the ultraviolet radiation. Sarah told me that, during the whitening procedure, I might experience a tingling in my teeth as “tiny, electric shocks”. I said, “Whoa!” That sounded kind of scary to me, but I felt more a sense of surprise than fear. Sarah asked me what Pandora station I wanted to listen to, and I asked for something relaxing. She chose a spa music station, and I started to relax.

I felt lightly apprehensive through the first session, anticipating a pain that did not come. My teeth did start to feel increasingly tingly throughout the next hour, but it felt more like my mouth was becoming minty. There was no mint taste, just the feeling of minty tingling on my teeth. Towards the end of the first whitening session, I told Sarah through my mouthguard that I thought one of my lower left teeth felt sensitive. Sarah reapplied the barrier gel in that area, and we proceeded with the second round of gel and lamp. The four 15-minute sessions passed faster than I thought they would. When Sarah handed me a mirror to look at my teeth, I felt like I was looking into someone else’s mouth. My teeth were considerably brighter with a slightly uneven coloration to them. Sarah told me that they would continue to whiten over the next 24 hours, so this wasn’t even the final shade. I would have to go back in a few days to get a color match for my crown.

After Sarah took out the gauze and mouthguard, she asked me to sit up and rinse. That’s when I felt my first shoot of pain in one of the lower right teeth. I told Sarah about it, and she said I could apply the topical pain relief gel to the inside of the upper and lower teeth guards if I wanted before I left. I wavered, but decided to wait. She packed up samples of toothpaste and gave me my Zoom supplies – the mouth guards, the pre-filled topical pain relief syringe, and a booster syringe of the whitening gel that I could use in a few days to brighten my teeth even more or in a few months.

When I brought my stuff up to the front desk to pay for my teeth whitening, Mina asked me how I was doing. I told her that I was feeling some tingles of pain in my teeth, and I wasn’t sure whether I should put the topical gel in the trays now before I leave or wait. Without asking, Mina used her headset to ask Sarah to come to the front. I told Mina that I was having trouble deciding what to do because the pain was causing a stress response for me. She told me not to worry as she took my credit card. I felt pain flash in a tooth on the top right. I asked if they had Advil that I could take. Mina deftly used her headset to ask another technician to bring me Advil. Within 30 seconds, I was taking Advil and signing my credit slip. Sarah set up the topical pain relief gel in the teeth guards for me. I put them in, hoping they would help. Before I left, Mina told me to call them if I continued to experience pain. I mentally worried about whether they would even be open later for me to call. Mina and Sarah told me to take more Advil before I went to bed that evening and that I would be feeling better by tomorrow.

If I hadn’t known that I was in my dentist’s office, I would have thought that I was in a spa given the level of service I received there. In addition to the great dental care I get there, this level of service is the kind of place I need, given my sensitive teeth and my fears about dentistry. When I go back for my crown, I’m going to use my last Ativan pill to chill me out so that I don’t start crying hysterically before any work is done like I did the last time. Studies have shown the repeated exposure to pain sensitizes – not desensitizes – a person to feeling pain more acutely in the future. With my history, I am screwed.

On the ride home and for hours afterwards, my teeth spiked with pain of varying intensity levels and length of time. Around 7:30pm, the pain spread throughout my upper and lower teeth. The pain did not abate, unlike the first few hours where I had some rest in between flashes of pain. The lower teeth had the most intense pain. I felt like my gums and teeth were on fire. The Advil I had taken in the office at 4pm had worn off. I figured that the next 24 hours were going to be the worst. At 8pm, I took more Advil. About 20 minutes later, my dentist called me on his cell phone from Citi Field, the Mets new baseball stadium, to ask me how I was doing. I told him how I was feeling, and he told me to alternate two Advil and two Tylenol every two hours. I asked him if I should take some of the Tylenol 3 that he had given me for my temporary crown. He said he didn’t think it was necessary. I didn’t argue with him. I could take the medicine if I felt I needed it. Mentally, I decided to take 1 regular Tylenol and one Tylenol 3. I knew I would need the codeine to help me sleep. I just had to wait until 10pm until I could take the Tylenol.

I went downstairs around 9:30pm to retrieve my cat Norman. While talking to my Mom, the pain along the bottom teeth started getting so bad that I could barely pay attention to what she was saying. I decided to excuse myself to go upstairs to write. I knew that, if I told her why I wanted to go, she would be intensely worried until I could assure her that the pain was all gone. When I inadvertently clenched my jaw today, sharp spikes of pain reverberated everywhere. I had to fight against my own instinct to clench. It was not easy. I automatically closed my eyes in response and wrapped my lips inwards around my teeth guards, waiting for it to pass.

Surprisingly, I fell asleep pretty normally, but was up at 12:15am. I took Advil and fell asleep. I awoke at 3:15pm, took Advil, and went to sleep. Up at 5:20am and took Tylenol & Tylenol 3. The pain had already began to subside from excruciating to bad. Went back to sleep. Up at 7am for thyroid meds. Up at 8am for my daily Gabapentin & more Advil. I slept until 10am, and then dragged myself out of bed. My mother called me to check on me. When I told her I was feeling better, she asked whether I would ever do it again. I told her yes, I would, but next time I would either ask for stronger pain meds or try a different method that did not result in so much pain. Clearly, brushing with Prevident, a prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste for the past month, did nothing to help. Because the pain had died down from excruciating, I switched to two regular Tylenol. I kept to the every 2 hour schedule until around 4pm. I felt I could space it out to 4 hours between doses, which is much more normal. When bedtime came again, I took a Tylenol 3 with a regular Tylenol to ensure I slept well for a second night. By the time I woke up this morning, I was feeling much better. Unfortunately, a storm front moved into the area and, with it, an terrible headache. Compared to the pain I’d been through after my teeth whitening, two Advil were more than enough to deal with it.

Now that it’s two days later, my teeth don’t seem all that much lighter. They definitely are, but I think I’ve already adjusted to seeing this new color. The only way I know that it worked is because the temporary crown that was put in is a much darker color. Before the whitening, it matched. Tomorrow I go to get a final color match, and then the crown will be made. I get to go back to get that done. I am so not thrilled.


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