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Reasons and Remedies for Tooth Discoloration

Are you self-conscious about smiling in social and professional situations? Learn what causes teeth staining and what your dentist can recommend in your unique situation.

Why Do Teeth Become Discolored?

Teeth have three layers; the outer enamel, dentin and then the pulp on the inside. As we age, our tooth enamel thins and more of the yellow dentin shows through. Genetics plays a role in how thick and strong our tooth enamel is, although teeth that appear yellow in older adults is very common.

Dental professionals divide stains into two main types; intrinsic and extrinsic stains. Intrinsic stains are inside the tooth. They are most commonly caused by certain illnesses, medications and trauma to the tooth. Intrinsic stains usually happen when individuals are young children from factors such as excessive fluoride exposure, accidents or antibiotic use by pregnant mothers. Extrinsic stains are stains on the outer layer of the tooth. These stains typically occur from poor dental hygiene, tobacco use and foods and beverages that stain teeth.

What Common Foods and Beverages Will Stain My Teeth?

Certain foods and drinks will discolor your teeth. Most foods and drinks will discolor the teeth if they are consumed frequently and you don’t follow a regular, comprehensive dental hygiene routine. Regular trips to the dentist for a cleaning can help remove stains caused by coffee or tea and the plaque buildup from sugary and starchy foods. Food that can increase your chances of tooth staining include:

  • Dark Colored Teas, coffee, sodas and fruit juices, such as cranberry and grape.
  • High-sugar and starchy foods like pasta, popsicles, ice cream, hard candies and more.
  • Tomato sauce, ketchup, and citrus.
  • Many other sauces and dark colored foods including curry, beets, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and others.

Are There Foods That Help Fight Staining?

You have multiple options for stain fighting foods, including:

  • Strawberries
  • Cheese
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Celery
  • Raw carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Pineapple

The Truth About Tobacco and Tooth Discoloration

If you smoke or use chewing tobacco, your teeth will turn yellow and then brown. Discolored teeth won’t be your only problem though. Tobacco use puts you at a higher risk for developing oral cancer. It also weakens your immune system, so if you ever need dental surgery, you won’t be a good candidate.

How to Fight Teeth Staining From Tobacco Use

You can brush and floss regularly and use over-the-counter teeth whitening products, but if you are a heavy or long-term smoker, these tactics won’t be very effective. The only treatment that will remove the stains is a chairside teeth whitening treatment at your dentist’s office. Be aware, the results won’t last as long as a nonsmoker’s results.

Can I Smoke and Still Keep My Teeth White?

If quitting isn’t an option at this time, you can help mitigate the damage tobacco causes by:

  • Practicing excellent dental hygiene at home, which includes regular brushing and flossing at least twice a day.
  • Having professional teeth cleanings twice a year. Your dentist will help to remove stains caused by smoking so they don’t build up.
  • Brushing after smoking. If brushing is not possible, at least rinse your mouth with water or chew sugar-free gum.
  • Trying to cut down on tobacco use or quit completely.

What Are My Whitening Choices If I Smoke?

Over-the-counter whitening toothpastes and strips are generally not strong enough to put a dent in the stains on a long-term smoker’s teeth. A professional teeth whitening treatment from your local dentist is your best option if you want significantly whiter teeth. You can have it done in the office or your dentist can provide you with a custom bleaching solution and whitening tray to use at home for about two to four weeks. Both options use the professional-grade whitening solution smokers need to get their white smile back.

How Can I Keep My Teeth White?

Even non-smokers can have trouble with staining. Luckily, there are steps you can take to ensure your teeth stay white and bright! To help prevent staining, follow the below recommendations:

  • Brush your teeth twice daily and floss once daily at the very least. If you eat or drink tooth-staining foods, be sure to brush or rinse afterwards.
  • Get regular dental exams and teeth cleanings from a professional dental office. This can help to remove stains when they are small and cheap to remove.
  • Brush, rinse or chew sugarless gum after smoking or eating or drinking things that you know can stain your teeth. A good tip is to have a travel size toothbrush and toothpaste with you at the office or in your bag so you don’t have an excuse to miss out on brushing!
  • Quit smoking. If you need help, please contact your dentist or doctor for resources on quitting. You don’t have to do it alone.

How Can I Tackle Tooth Discoloration?

There are many teeth whitening options available, including:

Whitening Toothpastes – Whitening toothpastes are abrasive and clean teeth by scrubbing off the stains. The don’t have any bleaching agents in them. You will want to use them as directed so you don’t damage your tooth enamel or experience increased sensitivity.

Whitening Strips – OTC whitening strips are usually more effective than toothpastes as they contain a mild bleaching agent. Make sure to avoid getting the bleaching agent on your gums.

Whitening Mouthrinses – These have limited effectiveness as they only remain on teeth for a minute twice a day.

OTC, Tray-Based Whitening Systems – These are an effective choice for mild staining, even though they are not as effective as tray-based systems dentists can provide. Dentists can prescribe a stronger bleaching solution, so dentist-administered, tray-based whitening systems are more effective.

In-office Professional Teeth Whitening – This is your most effective option for surface stains. You can have dramatically whiter teeth in an hour. Your dentist will oversee the entire process, ensuring you are a suitable candidate first. He or she can even match your teeth’s color to existing restorations.

Restorations – You can still have a white smile if you have internal staining that won’t respond to teeth bleaching. Dentists can apply bonding material or veneers to the front of the affected tooth so it won’t stand out.

Always look for OTC products featuring the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance. This ensures the product is safe when used as directed.

Fixing discolored teeth is primarily figuring out why the staining happened. Our dentist would be happy to help you determine the cause and the best treatment.

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