Tired of Your Lackluster Smile? Learn the Causes of and Treatment Options for Tooth Discoloration

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We've all seen the commercials on television advertising the latest product claiming to give users a pearly white smile. Drug store shelves are lined with a variety of teeth whitening kits. The message is clear: people want a healthy, glowing smile. But millions of Americans suffer from tooth discoloration, typically as a result of surface stains or changes inside the affected tooth. The good news is, with treatment options available today, tooth discoloration doesn't have to be a life-long cosmetic problem.

What causes tooth discoloration?

Tooth discoloration is caused by a number of factors. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Certain foods and drinks. Not surprisingly, some of the foods and drinks we put in our mouths can result in stained and discolored teeth. Drinks like coffee, tea, soda, and red wine are particularly notorious for their potential to stain teeth. Perhaps not as widely known, however, are some of the foods that can stain teeth, including certain fruits. For example, blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries have been known to discolor teeth.
  • Tobacco products. The health effects of smoking cigarettes are well documented. What's less often discussed, however, are the effects of cigarette smoking on oral health. In addition to increasing the likelihood of periodontal disease and gum recession, cigarette smoking can stain the teeth. Cigarettes aren't the only guilty party in the tobacco family, however; chewing tobacco is also responsible for tooth discoloration.
  • Insufficient dental hygiene. A common-- and easily preventable-- cause of tooth discoloration is simply a lack of appropriate oral hygiene. Without proper brushing and flossing, plaque can build up on the teeth and cause discoloration. Additionally, when stain-producing substances like tobacco or red wine are left on the teeth due to inadequate brushing, discoloration is often the result.
  • Medical treatments. Certain types of treatments-- particularly chemotherapy and radiation of the head and neck-- can lead to tooth discoloration.
  • Medications. There are some medications known to result in tooth discoloration. For example, tetracycline and doxycycline are widely known to cause discoloration when they're taken by children younger than eight years old, whose teeth are still developing.
  • Age. Unfortunately, no matter how well you care for your teeth, one of the major causes of discoloration is unavoidable: age. As we age, our enamel wears down. This exposes dentin, a layer of the tooth that is naturally yellow.
  • Injury. A common cause of tooth discoloration in young children is trauma. For example, a fall that injures the tooth can disrupt the formation of enamel in children, resulting in discoloration. Discoloration resulting from trauma isn't exclusive to children, either; tooth injury can also discolor adult teeth.

How is tooth discoloration treated?

The best treatment option for tooth discoloration depends on the type of discoloration; specifically, whether the stain is intrinsic (involving the inner structure of the tooth) or extrinsic (involving the outer layer, or enamel). Some common treatment options include:

  • Professional cleaning. Some extrinsic stains-- coffee or red wine stains, for example-- can be removed through a professional cleaning by your dentist. Following your cleaning, it's important to maintain good oral care habits at home, including daily brushing and flossing and rinsing the mouth after each meal.
  • Be mindful of what you eat. Your dentist might simply advise you to avoid foods and drinks that are known to stain the teeth.
  • Professional whitening. Typically, professional whitening procedures by your dentist involve applying a bleaching agent to the enamel. Often, some follow-up treatments are also necessary.
  • At-home whitening kits. These over-the-counter kits also use a bleaching agent, though not as strong as the bleaching agent used in professional whitening procedures. Typically, at-home kits use a strip or mouthpiece placed over the teeth.
  • Bondings and veneers. Sometimes, bleaching is not effective at lightening stains, and the affected tooth needs to be covered. In these cases, bondings or veneers are often used. A composite bonding material can be color-matched to look as much like the natural teeth as possible. Alternatively, veneers-- or ceramic shells that cover the teeth-- can be used to conceal discoloration.

To learn more about tooth discoloration and available treatment options, contact us today. We look forward to hearing from you!