You can always find a reason to smile—it's a beautiful day, your child hugs you, or perhaps you get to leave work early on a Friday.
But some folks could have an oral issue that will make them hesitant to flash those pearly whites. Stained teeth are one of those mouth matters that prevent even the happiest people from showing off their smiles.
So, what causes teeth stains?
Stained Teeth Causes
- Foods and Drinks: Certain foods and drinks that most people consume can stain your teeth. Pasta sauce, balsamic vinegar, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all foods that stain teeth. Popular drinks such as coffee, tea, red wine, sports drinks, and sodas also cause discoloration.
- Poor Oral Care: Neglecting basic dental hygiene like brushing and flossing stains teeth.
- Tobacco: Besides causing diseases like cancer, tobacco use - specifically cigarettes and chewing tobacco – causes teeth to become discolored.
- Medications: Teeth stains can also be caused by medications. Taking medications for health issues such as chemotherapy, high blood pressure, some antipsychotic medications, and even antihistamines can stain your teeth.
- Braces: Believe it or not, braces, which are intended to straighten your teeth and improve your smile, can play a part in staining your teeth. The design of brackets and wires can trap food particles. Those trapped particles increase plaque buildup. Also, brown stains on teeth from braces can result from the bonding material used to attach orthodontic brackets to your teeth.
- Disease and Trauma: Adult teeth can stain if they’re subjected to physical trauma. Children could be subjected to staining if they suffered trauma, illness, or disease while in the womb or under the age of eight.
Dental professionals have categorized three types of teeth stains: extrinsic, intrinsic, and age-related stains.
Extrinsic Tooth Stains
An extrinsic tooth stain occurs on a tooth’s surface. They are usually caused by tobacco use or by regularly drinking beverages such as coffee, tea, wine, or soda. The stain results from a pigmented residue in tobacco, foods, or drinks collected in the protein film that covers tooth enamel.
Fortunately, extrinsic tooth stains don’t work their way below the tooth enamel to the tooth’s dentin. As such, they are the easiest of the three main stain types to remove. Regular dental cleanings, brushing with whitening toothpaste, and at-home teeth whitening kits are all effective at removing extrinsic stains.
Intrinsic Tooth Stains
Intrinsic stains are just the opposite of extrinsic stains. An intrinsic stain is a stain that occurs below a tooth’s surface. Stain-causing particles find their way through a tooth’s exterior and collect on a tooth’s dentin. Tooth dentin is the sensitive layer just below a tooth’s enamel.
Tooth dentin is darker and more yellow than enamel. Dentin exposure results from worn-away tooth enamel. That’s why protecting your enamel with a proper oral care regimen is so important. Intrinsic tooth stains are more challenging to remove than extrinsic stains.
You can initially try to remove intrinsic stains with an at-home kit. The kit will need some type of active whitening agents such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. If that doesn’t work, consult your dentist about professional whitening treatment options.
The third tooth stain classification is age-related staining. This type of stain is a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic staining. Teeth become discolored as you age for two reasons: your dentin darkens and your enamel thins. So the darkened dentin becomes more pronounced.
Avoiding age-related tooth stains is out of one’s control since it is caused by two natural processes. But, you can attempt to minimize tooth discoloration through whitening. Opt for the same whitening techniques you’d use for intrinsic staining since the darkening of the dentin plays a larger role in the staining.
How to Remove Stains from Teeth
You don’t have to settle for having stained teeth. There are numerous stain removal methods depending on the type of stain you have. Some methods can be tried at home, while others require a visit to your dentist’s office.
At-Home Teeth Whitening
You’ll probably have more success removing extrinsic stains with at-home stain removal kits. Though any kit that contains hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide can also be used for intrinsic stain removal.
Whitening Toothpaste and Mouthwash
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing twice each day. So why not use tooth-whitening toothpaste when you brush? That way, you’ll get stain-removing power in the toothpaste you’re already using to clean your teeth.
The same goes for mouthwash. If you’re already using mouthwash to help remove those small food particles a toothbrush can’t reach, try using a whitening mouthwash.
These types of stain-lifting products work gradually. They remove stains little by little each day.
This whitening option is as simple as coloring your teeth. Use the pen to apply a thin layer of whitening gel to your teeth. The best part about the whitening pen is its convenience. It is ideal for taking with you in a pocket, purse, or backpack. Though, the gel’s whitening power isn’t as strong as other devices.
Tooth Whitening Gel
There are two ways to get tooth whitening gel: purchased over-the-counter or from your dentist in trays. Either way, please note that the gels contain peroxide-based bleaching agents.
Trays are necessary with whitening gels for a couple of reasons. The first being they have higher amounts of peroxide than whitening toothpaste. Secondly, the trays isolate the gel on your teeth only. The gel doesn’t touch other parts of your mouth.
Ask your dentist about custom trays. They are more effective at protecting your gums from contacting the gel than over-the-counter trays.
Tooth Whitening Strips
This method also incorporates tooth whitening gel, but the gel comes pre-applied to the strips, so there’s no need to use a tray.
Be careful applying the strips to your gums. The gel can irritate your gums if they come into contact.
In-Office Teeth Whitening
Consult your dentist if the at-home whitening kits don’t work as well as desired. You might have intrinsic stains and need an in-office solution administered by your dentist.
Professional teeth whitening treatments performed by a dentist offer several advantages over at-home whitening kits.
The whitening agents are dosed in higher concentrations
- In-office treatments produce results faster than at-home treatments
- Teeth can be visibly whiter after a single in-office visit
- A dental professional is supervising the in-office treatment
In-office whitening treatments can be expensive if they aren’t covered by insurance. There are options you can seek out that might provide discounted treatment, such as a dental teaching school. Dental students, under the supervision of dentists, can sharpen their skills by practicing the techniques of volunteers at a reduced cost. Or check your area for a low-cost dental clinic that offers whitening services.
Laser Teeth Whitening
Laser teeth whitening is a treatment that combines whitening bleach with a heat-generated laser. Your dentist applies bleach to each tooth. The laser supplies the heat that enhances the bleach’s effectiveness. The process is fast and very effective.
Your dentist will first determine your tooth shade and then take pictures of your existing teeth. Next, protective SPF lotion is placed on your lips, and a cheek retractor is inserted into the mouth. Cotton rolls are then placed under the lips.
A coating is placed over the gums to protect them and your mouth from the bleaching gel. The gel is then applied to the fronts of your teeth. The gel consists of hydrogen peroxide and thickening agents. The laser then activates the bleaching process.
After the treatment is completed, you will have to avoid certain foods and drinks for several days. For instance, coffee stains teeth, and the enamel will now be more susceptible to absorbing stains for a time. You should also avoid cold foods like ice cream and cold drinks.
Laser teeth whitening treatments have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. You might need several treatments to obtain your desired results. Discuss with your dentist if laser teeth whitening is a viable option for you.
Find a Dentist Near Me
Tooth discoloration is sure to keep even the happiest of people from smiling. If that sounds like you, consult your dentist to discuss your questions about stained teeth. Or, check out our tool to find a dentist near you for all your oral care needs, including any remedies for stained teeth. You can read patient reviews, peruse staff bios, and schedule an appointment online with a click of your mouse.