Tooth discoloration, also known as stained teeth, is changing of the color of your tooth to different shade from previous natural color. The natural color of your teeth is the color of the outer most layer of tooth enamel. Enamel is yellowish white and semitransparent and it also contributes blue, pink, green tints to the tooth color. (1)

A discolored tooth doesn’t look very attractive and can cause you aesthetic problems. Sometimes, due to wear and tear of enamel, the color of dentine (inner layer to enamel) shows up which is yellow.

So, the entire teeth appear yellowish. The white color of enamel can also be concealed by plaque formation.

Common factors of tooth discoloration are starchy food, acidic drinks, poor dental hygiene, genetics, certain diseases, medications and some environmental elements.

Types of tooth discoloration

There are mainly three types of tooth discoloration and they are extrinsic tooth discoloration, intrinsic tooth discoloration, and age-related tooth discoloration. (2)

Extrinsic tooth discoloration

Extrinsic discoloration occurs when the outermost layer of the enamel becomes stained because of the consumption of certain substances like coffee or tea, wine, cola or other drinks or foods that can stain teeth.

Smoking and use of tobacco can also cause stained teeth. Over the period, the invisible plaque hardens and forms tartar, which is yellowish and present around the gum line.

Intrinsic tooth discoloration

Intrinsic discoloration is due to absorption of pigment particles into tooth structure. It occurs when the stain-causing particles pass through the external surface of the tooth and accumulate within the tooth enamel.

Intrinsic discoloration of the tooth can be caused by several reasons like intake of excessive fluoride, dental caries, genetic disorders, and trauma to the tooth. Treatments like chemotherapy also cause tooth discoloration.

Age-related teeth discoloration

Age-related stained teeth are the result of both intrinsic and extrinsic tooth discoloration. The core tissues, like dentine, become more yellow with age and as the enamel wears off with time, the color of dentine shows through.

The intrinsic causes of tooth discoloration combined with extrinsic factors, such as the effects of certain foods, beverages, smoking, and tobacco, results in stained teeth in the most adult.

Symptoms of tooth discoloration

The most striking symptom is staining on the enamel ranging from white streaks to yellow tints, white spots, brown spots, and pits. Enamel may lose its whiteness and start appearing darker.

When enamel wears off and becomes very thin, the color of dentine can be seen, which is yellowish.

What causes stains on teeth?

There are numerous causes of tooth discoloration. What you eat could play a significant part in the discoloration of the tooth. Following are some reasons you can blame for you tooth discoloration –

  • Consumption of coffee, tea, and soda can stain your teeth.
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco not only causes your teeth to discolor but it can also cause gum disease.
  • Regular brushing and flossing can reduce the chances that you will stain your teeth by reducing plaque formation.
  • Some antibiotics like tetracycline and doxycycline can discolor your teeth.
  • Excessive intake of fluoride contributes to tooth discoloration.
  • Trauma or illness during the development of teeth can affect the enamel formation hence may lead to the discolored tooth in a child. Trauma in an adult tooth can also cause stained teeth.
  • Dental plaque begins as an opaque spot on tooth surface but ends up demineralizing the enamel leading to discoloration of the tooth.
  • Several genetic disorders affect tooth development and lead to abnormal tooth appearance and structure. Enamel hypoplasia is an example of defective enamel formed due to a genetic disorder.

Diagnosis of stained teeth

No particular test is requiring diagnosing the tooth discoloration. But some test may be done to detect the cause of discoloration.

Your Dentist may ask for a medical or dental history to find out the cause of discoloration of the tooth to give a proper treatment plan. Your dentist can easily diagnose you tooth discoloration just by looking at your teeth.

Treatment for tooth discoloration

There are many treatment options for the discoloration of teeth. Treatment options to whiten teeth can vary a lot depending on the cause of the discoloration and the extent of discoloration.

  • Professional cleaning – Regular professional cleaning can remove extrinsic stains caused by food and drinks.
  • Enamel microabrasion – It is a quick and painless method for removing yellow, white, or brown spots, stains, and discolorations on the teeth. This procedure uses hydrochloric acid and pumice to gently remove thin layers of tooth enamel along with the stains. (3)
  • Veneers – It is a layer of material which has the same color as your tooth that is placed on the tooth surface to restore localized or generalized defects and intrinsic discolorations.
  • Power bleaching – In this method, a light-activated bleaching gel is applied by the dentist on your teeth and usually left for 30-40 minutes. It lightens the stains on your teeth. However, the degree of lightening varies with the individual. (4)
  • Mouth guard and bleaching gel – This process is usually done at home. You can get mouth guard from your dentist and fill it with bleaching gel. This is placed inside the mouth and left for around 30 minutes.
  • Teeth whitening strips – These are flexible pieces of plastic that have been coated on one side with a thin film of hydrogen peroxide gel.

Prevention of stained teeth

Cost of dental treatment and products are soaring high. Also, the process of any dental treatment requires your considerable amount of time. It is wise to take good care of teeth and prevent tooth discoloration.

  • Avoid the foods and beverages that can potentially cause stains.
  • Using over the counter whitening agents like whiting toothbrush and mouthwash. (5)
  • Avoid smoking and consumption of other tobacco products.
  • Get your teeth cleaned by your dentist every six months.
  • Drink sufficient of water to prevent dry mouth.
  • Consume food rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium because deficiency of minerals may lead to demineralization of the tooth.

Final words on tooth discoloration

Tooth discoloration is one of the major reasons why patients seek dental care. In today’s world, plenty of tooth whiting products are available in the market which is easy to use. This has made the fight against the tooth discoloration very easy.

Stained teeth are mainly an aesthetic problem. Visit a dentist if you’re unhappy with how your teeth look. Your dentist will evaluate the cause of the disease and tell you a treatment plan.

Get you discolored tooth as quickly as possible since it may give a negative influence on your lifestyle.

Tooth discoloration, also known as stained teeth, is changing of the color of your tooth to different shade from previous natural color.