What Causes Tooth Stains?

Just a few months ago, you whitened your teeth, and now they are stained again. How does this happen?

“Teeth staining can be of two kinds,” says Dr. Carol Ford from her Phoenix cosmetic dentistry office. “There can be external reasons—like food, and internal reasons—like decay. Luckily, both of these problems can be addressed by your dentist,” Dr. Ford adds.

External staining, caused by the naturally-occurring substances in food such as dark berries, beets and marinara sauce—can be reduced or removed by tooth whitening. “If food can stain a white tablecloth, it can stain your teeth,” says Dr. Ford. “Strongly colored food is the main staining agent, but drinks that are red—including wine, juices and soda—will also stain your teeth,” Dr. Ford says.

Dental_CareTobacco stains, too, can be removed, but will return if you don’t quit smoking. “Smokeless tobacco,” also called “pinch” or chewing tobacco is a known tooth-staining agent. “Tobacco in any form has far more dangerous consequences than calming or appetite suppressing is worth,” says Dr. Ford. “But staining and a strong, unpleasant mouth odor are two cosmetic reasons to give up tobacco use. You may think you can avoid cancer, but if you use tobacco, your teeth can’t avoid staining and your breath will smell stale and unpleasant,” she adds.

Acidic food, even if it is not a bright color, can contribute to staining. The acid etches the teeth, and food stains settle into the etched areas.  Tannins, found in teas and coffee, also attract more stains. Teeth exposed to white wine (and acid drink) will attract more stains from tea than teeth of non-wine drinkers.

Internally-caused stains include decay, which may look dark against a white tooth exterior. Age is another culprit, because  over time, the enamel in a tooth thins, showing the darker pulp of the teeth. Root canal work can darken a tooth over time.  Some medicine, such as antibiotics and anti-fungals may stain teeth.  Ask your doctor if staining is a side effect of your medication, and then speak to your dentist about how to treat the staining. A youthful smile is not as hard to achieve as you might think.


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