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Stains on Teeth

Stains on Teeth

Healthy teeth naturally have a slight yellow tint to them, but over time, they can pick up other stains or suffer from unsightly discolouration. Our teeth are living structures covered in thousands of tiny pores (tubules) that can soak up stain particles, or even become discoloured from the inside because of past traumatic injuries.

The best way to treat stains on teeth is to understand what’s causing them, how to prevent new stains, and then select an aesthetic option that manages your specific concerns.

What Stains Teeth?

To understand tooth stains, we first need to be familiar with the structural anatomy of a tooth. Each of our permanent teeth has a hard outer shell of enamel, covered in microscopic tubules/pores. Below the enamel is a less dense structure called dentin. Dentin is naturally yellow and can add colour to the semi-translucent enamel that’s covering it. Inside the middle of the tooth is the pulp or nerve.

Enamel can become discoloured when it is frequently exposed to dark particles, such as the foods you eat, tobacco products, types of drinks you enjoy, and the environment.

Some of the most problematic stain-causing foods and drinks include:

  • Red wine
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Soda
  • Tomato sauce
  • Curry
  • Berries

…or anything that would potentially stain a white shirt if you spilled it onto fabric.

Stains can also be the result of medications taken during tooth development or from traumatic injuries, causing the nerve of the tooth to die and darken the tooth from the inside. Tetracycline is a classic example; this antibiotic—when taken during pregnancy or childhood—can cause teeth to develop with a bluish colour that isn’t possible to whiten. Aging and genetics may also play a role in the colour of your smile.

Your oral hygiene routine will also contribute to discolouration and staining, especially if you’re not brushing properly or long enough each day. For example, when plaque isn’t thoroughly removed with a toothbrush, it calcifies into tartar. Tartar typically has a yellow or brown colour to it, but it can also be green or black. Unfortunately, brushing and flossing cannot remove tartar; professional cleanings are needed, especially since the buildup can damage gum and bone attachments around the teeth.

Types of Teeth Stains

As you take steps to treat your tooth staining, understanding the type of stain that it is will make your treatment more effective.

Extrinsic Tooth Stain—Extrinsic stains are external. That is, they’re only located on the outside of your tooth enamel and not inside of it, like an intrinsic stain. Extrinsic stain particles can be removed during your dental cleaning, either with a special instrument or polishing tool. Most extrinsic stains are the result of buildup from inadequate oral hygiene, eating dark foods, coffee drinking, etc.

Intrinsic Tooth Stain—Intrinsic stains are internal stains. In other words, they aren’t on the outer surface where you can polish them away or have your dentist clean them off. Most age-related tooth stains are intrinsic stains. Other examples of internal stains are those from food and tobacco soaking into the tooth’s surface over time, or discolouration as the result of a dying tooth nerve.

Endogenous Tooth Stain—Endogenous stains are discolourations that form during the development of a tooth. Medications like tetracycline or having too much/too little fluoride will cause structural changes and alter the colour of the teeth while they’re developing. Hence why it’s so important to use medications as directed and always speak to your medical and dental provider if you think you could be pregnant.

Exogenous Tooth Stain—Exogenous stains are discolourations that affect a tooth after it erupts into the mouth. Tobacco and food stains or traumatic injuries can cause exogenous stains.

Does the Colour of Teeth Stain Mean Anything?

It can. For instance, brown spots on teeth are usually the result of atypical mineral levels or newly developing cavities. Generalised brown staining is more likely to come from food and tobacco. Black stains can be caused by vitamins or supplements. Grey stains typically result from aging amalgam (silver) fillings or nerve death inside of the tooth and green stains can be caused by anything from recent tooth eruption to medical cannabis. This is by no means a comprehensive list of tooth stain colours; it’s always important to have an oral evaluation by your dentist to assess what’s going on inside of your mouth.

How to Prevent Teeth Staining

Good oral hygiene habits and a balanced diet are the best ways to prevent tooth stains.

Make a point to brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes each time. Using an electric toothbrush can be helpful, as it makes additional strokes on your teeth that you won’t get with a manual brush design. Consider using a whitening toothpaste to help keep your smile brighter. Whitening toothpaste doesn’t necessarily whiten or bleach your tooth enamel but it does help to prevent new stains from building up across your teeth.

Be sure to floss around and between each of your teeth at least once a day. Flossing will help prevent new tartar buildup around the gum lines, which is known for harbouring stains, contributing to gum disease, and causing bad breath. Finally, don’t forget to have your teeth cleaned every six months; we’ll remove any tartar deposits and polish away surface stains, leaving a brighter smile behind!

The types of foods and beverages you select as part of your everyday diet are also important. If you’re drinking red wine a couple of nights per week, consider switching to white wine instead. Or if you’re eating pasta, choose a non-tomato-based sauce to minimise additional contact time with stain-causing foods. If you’re enjoying a pigmented drink, you can also consider drinking it through a straw to prevent it from washing over your top front teeth with each sip.

When you do decide to indulge in foods or beverages known for causing stains, consider rinsing your mouth out immediately afterwards. The key is to flush away any loose stain particles with water before they “settle” into your enamel. Rinsing your mouth with water won’t prevent all of the stains, but it will significantly cut back on how much new stain there is in the future.

Additionally, try to eliminate all tobacco products from your lifestyle. Whether it’s chewing tobacco, smoking, or vaping, these habits will almost always lead to significant staining in your teeth. Even with regular brushing and flossing, the stain can be extremely difficult to manage. It’s best to avoid tobacco products at all costs. Not just because of the stain, but also because of the oral health risks they pose, like advanced gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancer.

Shot of a handsome young man on a medical appointment at the dentist office professional dentist holding dentures comparing color and shade of teeth medicine healthcare whitening.

Tooth Discolouration Treatment

The quickest and most effective way to manage dental stain and tooth discolouration is to work with your dentist. During your exam at Hawthorn Road Family Dental, we’ll evaluate your teeth and discuss your medical history to pinpoint the source of your concern. Depending on the type of stain you have and what’s causing it, we may recommend one of the following treatments:

Professional Teeth Whitening—Using professional teeth whitening products will result in quicker, more effective results. Professional treatments use concentrated gels that effectively oxidise stain particles and lighten the natural colour of your tooth enamel. There are two main types of professional whitening to choose from:

  • In-Office Whitening: Performed inside of a dental office and completed in about one hour.
  • Take-Home Teeth Whitening: Uses a pair of custom-fitted trays and professional-grade gel (stronger than what you’ll find in stores or online).

Dental Bonding—Composite bonding uses tooth-coloured materials to mask minor surface flaws in teeth such as tiny chips, gaps, or in this case, localised staining. If you have a defect in your tooth enamel that’s causing a significant stain, bonding can quickly cover it and make your tooth look whole again.

Dental Veneers—When you need to dramatically transform several teeth at one time, porcelain veneers are an excellent choice. Veneers are typically bonded over the top front teeth, in sets of six or more (depending on the width of your smile.) They’re perfect for masking the healthy teeth behind them, as each veneer is like a thin shell or artificial fingernail, bonded to each respective tooth. Veneers are best if you have significant intrinsic staining that won’t respond to professional whitening treatments.

Dental Crowns—Teeth that have severe stains, as well as structural concerns (such as misshapen or pitted enamel), may benefit from a full-coverage dental crown. Since crowns encase the entire tooth, they protect it from every angle. Like veneers, we can specify the shape, size, and colour of your restoration for maximum aesthetics.

Enjoy a Whiter, Brighter Smile

Whatever the reason is for your teeth stains, Hawthorn Road Family Dental can help. Simply reserve a no-obligation evaluation to discuss your concerns and discover what options are possible. We’ll present you with appropriate choices (and pricing) so that you can select which steps to take next.

Contact us today to reserve an appointment!

Dr. Mahima Krongold

Dr. Mahima Krongold

Dr Krongold has been practicing dentistry for over twenty years. She has background experience dealing with a diverse range of dental issues, which vary significantly from individual to individual. Her experience has been built upon by her endless thirst for practical and technological advancement in the field of crowns, implants, bridge work, root canals, endodontics, teeth whitening and cosmetic work. Dr Krongold is a family dentist with three children. Children's dentistry is a specialised area for her, particularly encompassing oral hygiene and dental comfort.

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