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Tooth Discolouration - Causes & Treatment Options

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    Maybe you have noticed lately that your tooth colour is not as white as you want it to be. There can be multiple reasons for this. From the normal ageing process to the foods you consume and mistakes you make in your dental hygiene efforts, there are many factors that contribute to teeth discolouration.

    The good news is there are also many ways to help reverse the process. Not only that but also give you a whiter smile and improve your confidence. In the following guide, we will have a closer look at why tooth discolouration happens, how to prevent it and treat it.

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    Learn more about the types of tooth discolouration

    In general, dental experts have divided tooth discolouration into three different categories:

    • Extrinsic stains - these are surface stains that appear on tooth enamel, i.e. the tooth's visible surface. They are caused by foods and drinks that stain teeth, such as coffee, red wine, etc. Chewing tobacco is also a major reason for extrinsic discolouration to appear. For smokers and individuals chewing tobacco, yellow and brown tooth stains may appear on the surface enamel, otherwise known as tobacco-stained teeth.
    • Intrinsic stains - this is a kind of tooth stain within the tooth itself. Intrinsic discolouration is more difficult to treat with conventional whitening toothpaste and over-the-counter products. Sometimes the tooth may appear grey. Common reasons for intrinsic discolouration include the usage of certain medications and medical treatments. Trauma/tooth injury and tooth decay are also reasons for extrinsic stains. If you are using too much fluoride, then that too can cause the problem.
    • Age-related stains - the natural ageing process wears out the enamel of adult teeth and contributes to a yellow appearance. In most cases, age-related discolouration is in fact caused by a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors of tooth staining.

    What causes tooth staining?

    man with yellow teeth discolouration

    There are multiple reasons why your teeth may darken.

    • Foods/drinks - the most common reason for stains comes with the foods and beverages you consume. Red wine, coffee, tea and starchy foods create the perfect conditions for staining.
    • Tobacco - chewing and smoking tobacco can also stain teeth and increases the risk of gum disease.
    • Bad dental hygiene - plaque builds up when you don't floss and brush your teeth.
    • Diseases - some diseases affect the normal development of enamel and lead to tooth discolouration. Infections in pregnant mothers affecting enamel development in the baby can also lead to teeth stains.
    • Medications - some drugs can not only disturb enamel formation but also discolour teeth in children. Some antibiotics can stain tooth surfaces and lead to discolouration of their permanent teeth.
    • Dental materials - a grey-black cast can appear on the teeth due to the use of some amalgam restorations and silver sulfide-containing materials in particular.
    • The ageing process - tooth translucency is reduced with age. As you grow old, the outer layer of enamel on the teeth wears out, exposing the yellow dentin underneath.
    • Environment - exposure to too much fluoride can lead to fluorosis during tooth formation. This presents in the form of white spots on the teeth. Too much fluoride can happen due to environmental factors, such as too high fluoride levels in the water, or perhaps due to overuse of products that contain it.
    • Genetics - sometimes, thicker and whiter enamel just runs in family, while it is the exact opposite in other cases.
    • Tooth trauma - if young children are hit in the mouth, trauma can disturb the normal enamel formation process. This leaves the tooth vulnerable to discolouration and dental caries. Trauma is also known to discolour teeth due to cut blood flow to the tooth and nerve damage.

    What are the available treatments?

    woman at dentist for teeth whitening

    Teeth whitening options vary depending on the causes of tooth discolouration. They can include any of the following:

    Good dental hygiene routine

    Daily tooth brushing and flossing, combined with getting dental cleanings every several months can keep surface stains and bacteria at bay. Using an ultrasonic cleaning toothbrush is very effective at removing stains. from enamel surfaces.

    Composite bonding, crowns and veneers

    Certain drugs and tetracycline can often create conditions for tetracycline-induced intrinsic discolouration. There is also root canal treatment and excessive fluoride that can cause severe discolouration.

    Your dentist may then recommend covering the outer layer of the tooth with porcelain veneers or porcelain crowns, instead of going the bleaching route. These are sculpted to the desired shape and size and are applied directly to the tooth.

    It is important to point out that the large range of dental restorations (bridges, veneers, bonding, crowns, dentures) cannot be whitened the same way teeth can. They are composed of manmade materials, the most typical of which is porcelain.

    Treat tooth discolouration with whitening procedures

    There are a few options in that regard:

    • In-office teeth whitening - your dental hygienist can deal with light brown extrinsic discolouration and intrinsic stains with an in-office bleaching procedure. It commonly uses hydrogen peroxide whitening gel, which is applied to tooth enamel. The procedure takes about an hour. If the stains are stubborn, you may need another cleaning procedure to whiten your teeth. The dentist may also use rotary polishing or abrasive prophylactic paste. They will always conduct an assessment first, in order to determine which dental treatment will work best for your case.
    • At-home bleaching products dispensed by your dentist - your dentist may prefer to provide you with at-home whitening strips and kits. Such products are effective against extrinsic stains.
    • DIY methods - brushing your teeth with baking soda a few times a week can lead to some whitening effects.
    • Over-the-counter products - these are a low-cost alternative to bleaching and they involve no dental supervision. Such products usually feature a low-concentration bleaching agent and come in the form of toothpastes, chewing gums, strips, dental floss and rinses.

    You may be interested in reading in "Can I Get Teeth Whitening for Crowns and Veneers or Implants?"

    How to prevent tooth discolouration?

    Beautiful young woman brushing teeth

    Certain lifestyle choices go a long way in preventing intrinsic discolouration, as well as improving the effects of teeth whitening. You should avoid stain-causing beverages and foods, as well as the use of too much fluoride. If you are into drinking plenty of coffee, smoking or chewing tobacco, you should quit or cut back. Use mouth rinses after having beverages and foods that cause stains.

    Other important things to consider

    How to fix a discoloured dead tooth?

    If a tooth is discoloured, black in colour or generally has darker stains than the rest of your teeth, it could be an indication that it has died. If your dentist determines this to be the case, they may recommend a crown. If they don't think dental restorations are necessary, then they can do bleaching, in order to deal with the discoloured spot.

    How to deal with staining on dental bonding?

    Sometimes, the parts of your teeth with dental bonding have a different colour than natural teeth. It happens because of tiny scratches on the material, which trap and pick up stains. When you visit a cosmetic dentistry expert, they will utilise the right teeth whitening product to restore the look of bonded teeth.

    Can iron supplements cause tooth discolouration?

    There is evidence that liquid iron supplements used to control anaemia can lead to discolouration. It is extrinsic discolouration, usually black, due to the ferric sulfide. Sometimes even tablet supplements can stain teeth.

    Want to learn more? Read our post about how the teeth whitening process works.

    Frequently asked questions

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