Tooth Discoloration

Having a bright, white smile allows you to approach social situations with confidence. If you are constantly hiding your teeth from people during conversations or in pictures due to embarrassment over discolored teeth, you may begin to give people the wrong idea about your level of self-confidence and happiness. Luckily, tooth discoloration is a cosmetic issue that can be relatively easy to treat.

What causes tooth discoloration?

There are two main types of tooth discoloration, each with separate causes. Intrinsic tooth discoloration occurs when the inner portion of your tooth has become discolored in some way. This can occur for a number of reasons. For example, the genetic condition known as dentinogenesis imperfecta may cause your teeth to appear discolored. A few of the other causes of intrinsic discoloration include:

  • Overexposure to fluoride – while fluoride is an important mineral, too much fluoride can cause unusual thick white spots to appear on the teeth.
  • Use of tetracycline – antibiotics such as tetracycline can cause your teeth to become discolored. This may occur whether you were exposed during the second half of your mother’s pregnancy or at any time before your permanent teeth were formed (usually around the eighth birthday.
  • Oral trauma – this is particularly true if the trauma occurred while your permanent teeth were still developing, though oral trauma as an adult may also cause discoloration.
  • Dental work – some dental procedures, particularly root canals, can cause the teeth to become discolored.

Extrinsic stains occur on the tooth enamel. In general, these are caused by build up of plaque or by beverages such as red wine, tea, coffee, or soda. This type of stain is also cause by the use of tobacco products. Over time, these stains can build up, becoming darker and discoloring teeth more noticeably.

Finally, age is also a factor in tooth discoloration. Age discoloration combines intrinsic and extrinsic staining. As you age, the inner pulp, or dentin, in your teeth becomes to darken to a yellowish color. At the same time, the surface coating of tooth enamel will thin, allowing the darkened dentin to become visible. If your teeth become damaged, this may also cause tooth discoloration.

Almost everyone experiences tooth discoloration to varying degrees in their life. While most people associate tooth discoloration with yellowed teeth, discoloration can take the form of white spots, and in some cases even amber, gray, or purplish stains on the teeth can occur.

Is it possible to prevent tooth discoloration?

While discoloration due to age may not be completely avoidable, in general it is possible to keep tooth discoloration to a minimum. The most important step you can take is avoiding staining elements such as soda, coffee, wine, and tobacco products. If you cannot completely avoid these things, rinsing your mouth immediately or as soon as possible after consuming these products can help reduce the amount they can stain your teeth. It is also important that you maintain a regular schedule of bi-annual cleanings. These can help remove surface stains, preventing them from building up and becoming darker over time.

Intrinsic discoloration may be impossible to prevent, because it is the result of damage to the inner portion of the tooth. If you have experienced oral trauma, receiving a root canal treatment may help to prevent this type of discoloration. Avoiding tetracycline and the over-consumption of fluoride is also important to trying to prevent intrinsic stains from forming.

How is tooth discoloration treated?

We offer a number of treatments for tooth discoloration in our office. For minor stains, regular brushing and professional cleaning may be enough. However, if your stains are deeper and more set in, a professional whitening treatment may be necessary to lighten your teeth.

While there are a number of over-the-counter whitening products available today, the results they produce are inferior to what you will receive in our office. If you do not have the time for an in-office whitening treatment, we also offer professional quality take-home whitening kits for your convenience.

If you choose to receive a whitening treatment in our office, a special whitening gel will be painted onto your teeth. In general, this gel will contain a concentrated amount of hydrogen peroxide in order to remove the stains from your teeth. This gel will be exposed to a special light that will allow the product to work quickly; usually within 45 minutes.

For a professional take-home whitening treatment, you will receive custom-made bleaching trays that have been pre-filled with our whitening gel. Though this gel is less concentrated than what you would receive in our office, it can be left on your teeth for a longer period of time. In some cases, you may leave the gel on overnight. You will generally need to use these home treatments for up to four weeks to experience the same results as an office treatment. Even so, these kits will still provide results that are far better than the over-the-counter treatments.

In the case of intrinsic staining, whitening treatments may not be enough. For these cases, our dentist will inject your tooth with a special bleaching agent that will lighten the tooth back to a natural shade. You may also request that a dental crown or porcelain veneer be placed over the tooth or teeth. This is particularly helpful for people who have been diagnosed with dentiogenesis imperfecta.