What Causes Tooth Discoloration?

Discolored teeth can make a bad first impression. Stained teeth can zap your self-confidence and even hurt your career. People view others with yellowed and stained teeth as in poor health or less attractive. Learn more about the causes and solutions below.

What Causes a Dull, Stained Smile?

Tooth discoloration falls into two main categories; intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic stains are deep inside the tooth and no amount of whitening strips or teeth bleaching will remove the discoloration. In these cases, dentists usually recommend options to cover the tooth, such as bonding, veneers and crowns. Extrinsic stains are stains affecting the outer layer of teeth, the enamel. They can be scrubbed or bleached away.

Intrinsic stains can come from illnesses, such as celiac disease, rickets, calcium deficiencies and more. Certain medications, like antipsychotic drugs and antihistamines, can cause internal teeth discoloration. Tooth trauma, especially as a child, will also cause discoloration inside the tooth.

Extrinsic stains are usually related to lifestyle choices. People who don’t brush and floss regularly get plaque and tartar buildup, which makes teeth look yellow. Certain foods and beverages will stain teeth if not washed away after eating or drinking. Tobacco use is also a major cause of tooth discoloration.

Old dental restorations can also make teeth appear gray. If you have old metal fillings, your dentist may suggest replacing them with white composite fillings. Untreated dental decay can also make a tooth appear dark. No teeth whitening product can affect these types of stains, so it is always best to consult a dentist if you have only one discolored tooth.

Aging also causes teeth to appear yellow. Tooth enamel wears down over time, exposing the yellow dentin layer underneath. Genetics plays a role in how strong and long-lasting a person’s tooth enamel is, although certain foods can help strengthen enamel.

Foods and Beverages That Can Damage Your Smile

Some foods and beverages are acidic, making tooth enamel more susceptible to stains because they can penetrate the surface. Other foods and drinks contain tannins which allows the color to stick more easily to the enamel. Foods and beverages that can cause teeth staining include:

  • Coffee and tea
  • Red Wine
  • Grape juice
  • Soda
  • Tomato Sauces
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Soy Sauce
  • Blueberries
  • Pomegranates
  • Curry
  • Beets

Are There Any Foods That Help Keep Teeth White?

The following foods are not only nutritious, they help keep your teeth white:

  • Strawberries
  • Pineapples
  • Spinach
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Cauliflower

Is Tobacco Ruining Your Smile?

Unless you use tobacco on rare occasions, it is most likely yellowing your teeth. Eventually, your will turn brown from smoking.

Tobacco’s Deadly Effect on Teeth

Most people who use tobacco know it can cause numerous health problems like lung cancer and heart disease. Tobacco use is also responsible for a variety of oral health issues beyond tooth discoloration, including an elevated risk of developing gum disease or oral cancer.

How to Negate Tooth Discoloration From Tobacco Use

Being diligent in your oral care routine at home is essential. Brush twice daily, floss once a day and use a mouth rinse. See your dentist every six months and have a professional cleaning.

Brushing after smoking may also help. Your best option, however, is quitting. Ask your dentist to suggest quitting smoking resources. Millions of people quit every year in order to improve their lives; you can do it too.

How Can Smokers Get Whiter Teeth?

DIY solutions available at your local drugstore include whitening toothpastes, strips, and gels that you put in a tray to wear. These products can whiten teeth slightly, but they are not strong enough to whiten a long-term smoker’s teeth.

Your dentist can offer both at-home and in-office teeth whitening with professional-grade solutions that can tackle tobacco stains. Dentists can use FDA-approved bleaching agents, while the products you can buy OTC are not FDA approved as they contain a weaker bleaching agent.

How Can I Prevent Tooth Discoloration?

There are several things you can do to help keep your teeth whiter, including:

  • Practicing good dental hygiene
  • Rinsing or brushing after consuming teeth staining foods and beverages
  • Using a straw to drink staining liquids to keep them off your front teeth.
  • Avoiding tobacco use.
  • Getting a professional teeth cleaning twice a year.

What Are Good Tooth Whitening Options?

Treating discolored teeth effectively depends on the reason for the discoloration. After a thorough exam, your dentist can look for any issues that need to be resolved first. If you have crowns, composite fillings, sensitive teeth, gum disease, certain medical conditions or you are pregnant, always talk to a dentist before selecting any tooth whitening option. Your options may include:

  • Whitening toothpastes – effective on mild staining, but may cause tooth sensitivity
  • Teeth whiting strips and gels are slightly more effective, but they can also cause sensitivity
  • Tray-based tooth whitening systems are available in drug stores or at your dentist’s office. Dentists offer a more effective tray system as the bleaching agent is stronger and the tray is custom made to keep the bleach off your gums.
  • Professional in-office teeth whitening treatments from your dentist – These are the most effective option, producing fast, dramatic results.
  • If you have discoloration deep inside one tooth that won’t respond to bleaching, your dentist can place bonding material or a porcelain veneer over the front of the tooth to hide the discoloration.

Remember, teeth whitening treatments are semi-permanent, including when you have bonding or a veneer. If you continue to consume staining foods and beverages without rinsing afterward or continue using tobacco, the stains will return.

Beware of teeth whitening services offered at spas, salons, and on cruise ships provided by non-dental professionals. Only a dental professional is qualified to access your needs. You could end up with a bleach and light treatment that simply dehydrates your teeth so they initially look white, but the results may not last after you eat or drink.

If you are not happy with your teeth’s color, consult our dentist. There are many treatments available that can give you a bright white smile.

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