Stained teeth can make an otherwise beautiful smile look unsightly. Fact is it's easy to stain your teeth; any food or drink that will stain your carpet will stain your teeth, too. But even though stained teeth are common, that doesn't mean you can't do anything about it. The first step to a brighter, whiter smile is to learn exactly what causes stained teeth. The next -- and most important -- step is to see your dentist to find out what solutions are best for your smile. This article will get you started on learning the ins and outs of stained teeth ... but the rest is up to you!
Types of Tooth Stains
There are two primary classes of tooth stains: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic tooth stains are stains on the surfaces of teeth. Intrinsic tooth stains are found on the inside of the tooth, within its inner layers, in the dentin or in the pulp area. A simple way to remember the difference is to think of extrinsic tooth stains as being on the exterior of the tooth and intrinsic tooth stains on the interior of the tooth.
In general, extrinsic tooth stains are caused by certain habits like not brushing, flossing or seeing your dentist on a regular basis; drinking coffee, tea or wine; eating berries, soy sauce or curries; and smoking or chewing tobacco. Intrinsic stains may be caused by tooth traumas (a broken tooth or chipped tooth), certain antibiotics (tetracycline), and dental conditions (fluorosis). Genetics also play a big role in the color of your teeth and their tendency to stain. And aging can cause both extrinsic and intrinsic tooth stains.
Tooth Stains in Technicolor
The color of stained teeth can range from yellow-brown/dark brown to green, orange, bluish-gray and even black! Let's take a look at the different colors of stained teeth and their causes.
Yellow-Brown/Dark Brown Stained Teeth - If you regularly drink beverages like coffee, tea, wine (red or white) or soda, your teeth may eventually start to develop a yellowish-brown or dark brown tint. This is an extrinsic type of tooth stain, resulting more from the interaction between a substance with your tooth's calculus or plaque than the color of the food or beverage.
Plaque itself may also be the culprit of yellow-brown or dark brown tooth stains; poor oral hygiene can allow plaque to build up, making your teeth look dull and lackluster. If you smoke or chew tobacco, you can count on your teeth turning yellow-brown and eventually dark brown after years of use.
Baby teeth that have been injured or infected may lead to brownish tooth stains in permanent teeth. Aging can cause brown tooth stains, too. Fact is your teeth are like anything else that endures years of use - they become a little less shiny, a little less bright over time. Don't fret: It's the norm rather than the exception. Later, we'll go over how to get rid of them.
Green Stained Teeth - It sounds strange, but tooth stains can actually be light to dark green in color. Green stains are more commonly found on children's teeth. The causes vary from exposure to copper, nickel and mercury to the presence of fluorescent bacteria and fungi. Certain blood diseases can also cause greenish tooth stains, as can decomposed hemoglobin or a stained enamel cuticle (the Nasmyth's membrane). These stains typically affect anterior teeth (the six upper and lower front teeth).
Orange Stained Teeth - Orange tooth stains typically occur near the gum line and are caused by the presence of chromogenic (photographic) bacteria or food buildup. Children are especially prone to orange tooth stains, usually as a result of improper or infrequent brushing.
Bluish-Gray Stained Teeth - Bluish-gray stains are intrinsic and caused by exposure to medications like tetracycline. This can happen in utero, when the tooth structure is forming; expecting mothers who take tetracycline can transfer it to the fetus.
Black Stained Teeth - Black tooth stains are extrinsic tooth stains and sometimes appear in the form of a black line on the anterior teeth. Iron supplements or mouthwashes containing chlorohexedine can cause black tooth stains.
White Spots - Fluorosis, the condition resulting from fluoride overuse, can cause opaque white lines or splotches on teeth. This type of tooth stain is intrinsic.
Solutions for Stained Teeth
Avoiding stained teeth requires brushing, flossing and seeing your dentist regularly. Professional teeth cleanings can help remove minor extrinsic tooth stains. For more stubborn stains or intrinsic stains, professional teeth whitening, micro-abrasion or veneers may be perfect solutions. A consultation with your dentist is the place to start, since extrinsic and intrinsic tooth stains are treated differently, but we can prepare you by discussing the different types of solutions available.
Teeth Whitening -- Most extrinsic tooth stains respond well to professional teeth whitening treatments. Laser teeth whitening is the preferred choice of many patients these days because of its bleaching power and time-saving advantages (treatments take about an hour!). But not everyone can get this laser dentistry procedure; a thorough dental exam and consultation is required to get your dentist's go-ahead. Things like tooth decay or gum disease may need a tooth filling or gum disease treatment prior to laser teeth whitening. Patients with a dental crown or porcelain veneers are limited, too. Only certain types of laser teeth whitening treatments are effective on existing dental work.
Over-the-counter teeth whitening systems and dentist-dispensed take-home kits are other options. While over-the-counter systems are generally cost effective, they require daily use for several weeks before results are evident. With professional take-home kits, the bleaching solution is stronger than store-bought kits or whitening strips. Plus, you have the added benefit of using the system under your dentist's supervision.
Intrinsic tooth stains caused by tetracycline use or fluorosis are tougher to remove. Some dentists have found that intensive treatments utilizing a variety of teeth whitening products has worked for patients with tetracycline stains. This involves using a teeth whitening toothpaste for two weeks, followed by a laser teeth whitening treatment and then using take-home whitening trays for the next three weeks.
Micro-Abrasion -- Micro-abrasion may be effective for tooth stains caused by fluorosis. Micro-abrasion involves polishing away tooth stains with a mixture of hydrochloric acid and pumice. This process removes a very thin layer of enamel to reveal whiter, more evenly colored teeth.
Porcelain Dental Veneers -- Another option is to cover your stained teeth altogether with porcelain dental veneers. Porcelain veneers are an exciting cosmetic dentistry invention that can dramatically transform stained teeth, crooked teeth or chipped teeth into bright white, perfectly straight teeth in one visit. You can get just a few porcelain veneers to mask problem areas or a mouthful for a complete smile makeover. Porcelain veneers typically take just one visit to apply and require little to no prepping. Although porcelain veneers are highly stain-resistant, it's best to minimize consumption of foods and drinks that can stain teeth.