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Acommon problem we see with patients’ teeth is that staining can occur even when they are following a good oral hygiene approach at home.

They might be brushing regularly and flossing yet staining builds up over time due to other health or lifestyle factors. What causes this staining and how can it be removed?

To better understand where in the tooth staining occurs, let’s first look at the anatomy of the tooth.

Anatomy of a Tooth

Anatomy of a ToothEssentially, the tooth consists of 4 “layers”:

  • Enamel – hard outer layer that protects your teeth from decay
  • Dentine – the second layer of the tooth consisting of living tissue that communicates with the nerve of your teeth
  • Pulp – the soft center of the tooth made up of the nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissues
  • Cementum – connective tissue which forms along with the roots of the teeth, binding them to the gums and jawbone

Why are my teeth discolored?

While the difference might only be obvious to a dentist or a dental hygienist, tooth-related stains can broadly be grouped into three categories.

Extrinsic Teeth Stains

These are the stains where the cause and effect are most obvious as they are on the outer surface of the teeth – the enamel. Extrinsic stains are mostly caused by the pigmentation in what we consume and so staining on the tooth enamel gradually worsens over time.

Common culprits include tobacco, wine, carbonated soft drinks, and energy drinks, and (annoyingly as you’re reading this whilst sipping a Latte) tea and coffee.

Extrinsic staining is difficult to avoid as so much in our diet is a potential cause; luckily these are also the stains that are simplest to remedy. More on that later.

Intrinsic Teeth Stains

Intrinsic staining of teeth affects the inner layer of the teeth – the dentine. The dentine may darken or become yellow and the discoloration can be particularly noticeable if the outer layer (enamel) has been worn away too.

Staining on the inside of the tooth is usually affected by health-related aspects such as:

  • Too much fluoride consumption when very young
  • Certain medications such as tetracycline antibiotics (particularly under the age of 8)
  • Trauma to the tooth causing nerve damage
  • Tooth decay (usually present where the tooth meets the gumline)
  • Genetics

Unsurprisingly these are harder to remedy, but far from impossible. An extrinsic stain simply needs removing from the surface, the intrinsic has worked into the tooth and so a different approach is required.

Age-related Discolouration

Age-related DiscolourationOver time, if there are cracks or fractures in your enamel, staining on the outside of the tooth can penetrate deeper and affect the inner layer.

Even without damage to the enamel of teeth, as we age the dentin naturally yellows and the enamel layer thins, this allows the darkened dentine to show through.

Something a little different: Old Dentistry

As enamel wears away, metal fillings may give teeth a noticeably “grey” appearance and old veneers and composite bonding can darken with time (and can appear even darker if you whiten your natural teeth).

How can I change the color of my teeth?

Trying to assess what type of discoloration you have requires a dental professional assessment. A clear assessment of the cause of discoloration will allow targeted treatment and the best result will be achieved.

Guessing can lead to the wrong treatment. It might be tempting to buy whitening toothpaste but this will have no impact on intrinsic staining. It will also have very little impact on surface staining as the dosage of active whitening ingredients legally allowed being purchased over the counter are too low to have any impact.

Worse still, others turn to home whitening kits and gels that aren’t prescribed by a dental professional. At best, these will have no impact, at worst they will be wholly unsuitable to the type of staining you have.

The kits are often ill-fitting and the gel at a dosage that is either too weak or (illegally) too strong. Rather than whitening teeth, a far more likely result is to cause burns to the gums and create problems that require medical attention.

First things first

Seeing a dentist and a dental hygienist will help you identify the cause of your stained or discolored teeth and they will provide you with the best treatment options for whitening your teeth.

For extrinsic staining caused by food, drink and smoking it is always advised to have an appointment with one of our hygienists who can get your smile back to its former shining glory (sometimes that’s all that is needed!).

Following a thorough clean by a dental hygienist, extrinsic staining can be further treated with professional teeth whitening (provided all the teeth being whitened are natural teeth and there are no other reasons for your discolored teeth).

Intrinsic staining will require a different approach, where the bleaching agent is either placed inside the tooth or other cosmetic options are considered (such as porcelain or composite veneers).

We have written a post that outlines all the best options for teeth whitening, but overall it’s essential to visit a dentist for an oral examination to discuss your suitability for treatment.

Proper oral care at home underscores any professional treatment that you may get, as this not only helps you to maintain your beautiful smile once it has been restored but also helps to look after your oral and overall health.

Why consider Baytown Gentle Dental for cosmetic dentistry?

We’ll let our patients speak for us there, our most recent feedback from a patient:

“Over the past couple of years, I started to notice a bit of a grey shadow at the top of one of my front teeth. Unfortunately, this tooth had ‘died’ after a rather nasty accident many years ago (I had to have a root canal procedure, and then veneers applied).

“I asked my dentist whether there was anything she could do, as I was starting to feel very self-conscious about it (particularly when I saw photos of myself). She came up with a brilliant idea. Within a few days, we could see that my tooth was starting to lighten up, and after a couple of weeks, the grey shadow was gone! I’m so happy with the results and can smile freely again.”


We love our patients and love to help them form healthy dental life that will last them a lifetime. For more information call us today to answer all of your questions so get an appointment today.