Causes of Tooth Discoloration

Teeth_Whitening Our teeth are often called our “pearly whites,” but for many of us they are anything but! Teeth whitening by a cosmetic dentist is one way to brighten your smile, but before your dentist provides you with an in-office whitening treatment, he or she will examine your teeth to determine the cause and best treatment of the stains on your teeth.

Extrinsic, or surface, stains, are the kind that are most responsive to teeth whitening treatment. Other types of stains, including intrinsic, or deep-rooted, stains, are often better treated with restorations such as veneers or crowns.

Here’s the low-down on several common types of tooth stains, with advice on whether teeth whitening can help resolve them.

Causes of tooth stains

  • Food and drink – Stains caused by coffee, berries, wine, tea and soda are extrinsic and can be improved with teeth whitening.
  • Tobacco – Stains caused by cigarette smoking or use of other tobacco products are technically extrinsic stains, but are far harder to remove than stains caused by food or drink.
  • Medications – Tetracycline and some other types of medications can cause intrinsic, permanent stains that will not be lifted by a whitening treatment.
  • Fluoride – While adequate levels of fluoride, particularly while the teeth are still coming in as a child, are important, there can be too much of a good thing. Fluorosis causes permanent white spots on your teeth and is considered intrinsic and thus hard to remove by whitening.
  • Age or genetics – Some people have teeth that just don’t retain enamel as well as others, and all of us experience some erosion of our enamel as we age, which can lead to yellowed or darkened teeth. These intrinsic factors will impact how well teeth whitening treatments may work for us.

Dr. Carol Ford, a cosmetic dentist with a practice in central Phoenix, says, “Teeth whitening is effective for treating many cases of discolored teeth, but it is not a panacea. Your dentist can advise you on what is causing your discoloration issues, and offer you the most effective treatment.”

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