What causes teeth discoloration?

Tooth discoloration is unsightly, but did you know that most tooth staining is treatable and preventable? There are two types of stains that discolor the teeth. Extrinsic stains are surface level, more easily treatable and are often caused by food or drink.  Intrinsic stains are deeper in the tooth and can be caused by decay, age or injury.  These types of stains are harder to treat. Age can also cause tooth discoloration.

The types of tooth stains: a closer look
Extrinsic: this type of tooth staining only effects the tooth enamel, which is the outer most layer of the tooth. This type of staining is often caused by certain types of foods, tobacco use, or discoloring beverages like coffee or wine. Red sauces, red wine, coffee, tea and chocolate are all common causes for extrinsic discoloration.  Cigarettes and chewing tobacco also cause dramatic extrinsic tooth discoloration.

Intrinsic: this type of tooth staining effects the interior of the tooth, which means it is harder to treat and that over-the-counter whitening products are less effective.  This type of staining is often caused by tooth decay, injury to the tooth, some types of medications, excessive fluoride or genetic reasons. 

Age: As you age, the enamel on teeth begins to wear away, causing tooth to take on a yellow appearance. Age related tooth discoloration can often involve both intrinsic and extrinsic discoloration. Age also causes teeth to become more brittle, which can more easily lead to injury, which may cause staining, too.

The color of the stain may indicate the cause
If you are experiencing tooth discoloration, the color of the stain may provide more information as to what caused the blemish. Yellow stains are usually caused by tobacco use, dark-pigmented beverages, a diet high in simple sugars, poor oral care or chronic dry mouth.  Brown stains can also be caused by tobacco use and staining beverages but may also be caused by dark-colored fruits, untreated tooth decay or tartar buildup. White spots can be caused by a cavity in the tooth, and the color of the decaying area will darken over time. Excessive fluoride can also cause white spots on teeth. Black stains can be caused by liquid iron supplements, an advanced tooth cavity, or fillings or crowns that contain silver sulfide. Purple stains or a purple haze on the teeth can be caused by regular wine consumption.

So what can you do about tooth stains? 
It’s always important to maintain good oral care habits, but to avoid tooth staining, brush after each meal, especially when consuming highly-pigmented food or drink.  If you cannot brush, rinse your mouth well with clean water. If you use tobacco products, talk to your doctor about a cessation program.  Tobacco products have many negative impacts on oral health in addition to tooth staining.  Ceasing use is the best choice.

If you are looking to treat existing stains, surface stains not caused by decay can be treated with a hydrogen peroxide bleaching solution in your oral health care provider’s office or through a home treatment regimen.  Dental office treatments are stronger and more concentrated, offering more dramatic and longer lasting results. Your oral care provider may also offer custom trays and home-use whitening gels that allow you to whiten your teeth at home. Over-the-counter products including whitening toothpastes, whitening strips and other solutions may reduce the appearance of surface stains, but are not as effective as stronger dentist-provided options.

Of course, not all tooth staining can be treated with these types of products. Staining caused by dental decay, medications or other factors should be addressed by your oral health care provider.  To keep your teeth in the best shape possible and to address any stain-causing or other oral health concerns, it is important to visit your dentist twice a year for regular checkups, cleaning and any needed treatments.  Many experience dental anxiety and fear the dentist’s office and the thought of possible treatment, but delaying dental visits can lead to more severe concerns that need more detailed treatment.

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