Without much thought, I chomped down on a gooey, sticky piece of candy and off popped the crown protecting my lower jaw. “Ouch!” doesn’t begin to describe what I said next. Tooth sensitivity is torture.
Dentists have several tools to help quell tooth sensitivity, including fluoride and laser light emitted at high intensity.
But studies show that compared to fluoride treatment, low-energy red light is better at reducing and eliminating tooth sensitivity pain.
What is Tooth Sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity (dentinal hypersensitivity to dentists) is a common problem affecting as many as one-third of all adults.
The problem causes a sudden, sharp pain when your teeth come into contact with certain stimuli, such as hot or cold foods, drinks, and sweet or acidic substances.
Although the pain typically goes away quickly, it can still be unpleasant and disruptive to your daily life.
There’s a reason that spy movies use dental torture to scare us.
Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
The underlying cause of dentinal hypersensitivity is the wearing down of the protective layer of your teeth, which exposes the sensitive part of your teeth called dentin.
According to a 2019 meta-analysis, about one-third of all adults suffer tooth sensitivity, making it a significant oral health concern.
There are various causes of sensitivity, including friction that causes abrasion, acid that causes corrosion, and habits or trauma that cause tension.
These factors can all contribute to the wearing down of the protective layer of your teeth, leading to the exposure of sensitive dentin.
Tooth Sensitivity Treatments
Fortunately, dentists have several treatment options for managing dentinal hypersensitivity.
These include desensitizing agents like resin, fluoride, laser therapy, and iontophoresis (the use of an electrical current).
In several studies, the most effective treatment was red light therapy.
It was superior to coatings and high-energy lasers and at eliminating dental sensitivity.
You can access red light therapy for tooth sensitivity at the dental office, or you can do the therapy at home.
Red Light Therapy vs. Lasers for Tooth Sensitivity Study
A 2022 study published in the Swiss journal Life looked at red light and laser therapy’s efficacy on tooth sensitivity.
Low-Energy and High-Energy Light Delivery
In this study, researchers analyzed data from 920 teeth treated with light to reduce dentinal hypersensitivity.
Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation, is the low-energy delivery of light, while laser therapy is the high-energy delivery of light.
Of those teeth:
- 387 were treated with low-energy red light therapy using 660 nm red light
- 327 were treated with a high-energy laser using 1064 nm infrared light and graphite paste
- 206 were treated with a high-energy laser using 1340 nm infrared light
Standardized Pain Measurements
To standardize patients’ dental sensitivity at various milestones, the researchers used the visual analog scale (VAS), which assessed sensitivity at five different stages:
- T0 (before treatment)
- T1 (immediately after treatment)
- T2 (one week after treatment)
- T3 (four weeks after treatment)
- T4 (six months after treatment)
- T5 (one year after treatment)
Red Light Therapy Reduced Tooth Sensitivity 100% at 1 Year
At each measurement milestone, the VAS scores for red light therapy were better than laser, whether used with graphite or not.
At the one-year mark, the treatment had eliminated tooth sensitivity in the red light therapy group.
This group had no sensitivity in their affected teeth.
The infrared laser groups significantly reduced their sensitivity, but it was not 100%.
The low-energy delivery of red light was superior to the high-energy delivery of infrared light.
Red Light Therapy with Fluoride for Tooth Sensitivity Study
A 2019 study published in PLOS ONE compared fluoride to photobiomodulation to treat tooth sensitivity.
These researchers also used the visual analog scale (VAS) to standardize sensitivity ratings.
The patients were separated into these treatment groups:
- red light therapy
- fluoride and red light therapy combined
The fluoride, the red light therapy, and the combined treatment groups had significant reductions n tooth sensitivity.
The best results were in the red light therapy combined with the fluoride treatment group.
These results support the theory that red light therapy complements and augments traditional treatments.
Red Light Therapy to Reduce Bleaching Sensitivity
If you’ve ever bleached your teeth and felt sensitivity after, you’re not alone.
Bleaching teeth promote tooth sensitivity and pain.
Dentists have tested various remedies, including red light therapy to reduce bleaching sensitivity.
In a 2016 randomized clinical trial study published in Lasers in Medical Science, sixty-six patients underwent in-office bleaching with 40% hydrogen peroxide.
After the procedure, they were randomly divided into three groups.
- low-energy red light therapy using 660 nm red light
- low-energy red light therapy using 810 nm infrared light
Using the visual analog scale (VAS) to standardize pain levels, researchers tested tooth sensitivity an hour after bleaching, the next day, the day after, and 30 days after bleaching.
One hour after bleaching, the groups had the same levels of sensitivity. But at 24 hours after bleaching, the red light group had the most reduction in tooth sensitivity pain. The placebo and infrared groups were left in the dust.
However, the infrared group caught up at the 48-hour test. The VAS for red and infrared light were significant, while the placebo group still had tooth sensitivity from the bleaching procedure.
Interestingly, there was no significant difference in tooth whitening efficacy among the groups.
Dental Red Light Therapy at Home
Dental red light therapy kits are now available for home use using the same principles as those in the scientific studies.
Oral care devices use some combination of red, infrared, and blue light for different goals.
The red light reduces and eliminates tooth sensitivity and dental pain.
Although we didn’t go into depth about receding gums in this article, red and infrared devices are good at helping with that problem as well.
The infrared light complements the red light for pain as well.
The blue light whitens teeth and sanitizes the mouth.
The time-per-use is usually 5 minutes, once a day.
I’m a huge fan of NovaaLab products. They sell a very reasonably-priced Oral Care device on their site. I have not reviewed it yet, but you can see my NovaaLab Light Pad guide.
Studies show that red light therapy is more effective than other treatments in reducing tooth sensitivity. Red light is the most effective, beating out infrared and laser high-power light delivery in pain relief studies.
You can do dental red light therapy at the dentist or at home. Home-use oral care devices are well-supported in science. They not only reduce pain but help with receding gums, whitening teeth, and bad breath.
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