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What Causes Teeth to Lose Their Whiteness?

May 01, 2023
What Causes Teeth to Lose Their Whiteness?
Do dull, stained teeth make you want to hide your smile? You’re not alone, and we can help. Learn how and why teeth become discolored, and discover treatments that can restore a whiter, brighter smile in no time.

Discolored enamel is a top cosmetic dental concern for many people, and for a good reason: No one wants to flash a yellowing, lackluster smile that doesn’t look white, fresh, or healthy. 

Many patients who come to Hazel Dell Dentistry for in-office teeth whitening think their dull, tarnished smile is a consequence of insufficient oral hygiene habits or a diet that’s too rich in enamel-staining foods and beverages. But that’s only part of the picture. 

Read on as cosmetic dentistry experts Dr. Suzette Nikas and Dr. Chelsea Laucher discuss the three main types of tooth discoloration, explore common reasons enamel loses its whiteness, and offer treatment solutions to correct or reverse any form of dental discoloration.  

A short tutorial on dental discoloration 

Not all tooth discoloration is the same, and only a dental exam can confirm which category your dull, dingy, or yellowed enamel falls into: 

Extrinsic staining

Most people dealing with visibly dull or dingy enamel have extrinsic staining, a type of tooth discoloration that occurs when stain molecules (mostly from foods and beverages) permeate the microscopic indentations of your enamel. Extrinsic staining tends to turn teeth yellow or brown.

Intrinsic discoloration

This type of dental discoloration happens when something causes a tooth’s inner, sub-enamel layer of calcified tissue (dentin) to darken. Instead of turning your teeth yellow or brown, intrinsic discoloration makes your teeth look greyer than usual.

Age-related yellowing

Normal aging causes your teeth to change intrinsically and extrinsically: White surface enamel becomes thinner as the darker underlying dentin layer becomes thicker, often making teeth appear less white as the decades pass. 

Why have my teeth lost their whiteness?

There are various causes of intrinsic and extrinsic tooth discoloration: Some are purely cosmetic and readily preventable, while others may be related to an underlying problem requiring a different approach. 

So, what’s discoloring your smile? Probably one of the following:

Stain molecule accumulation 

The top cause of dull, discolored smiles is what you might expect — regular contact between tooth enamel and stain molecules. Primary tooth-staining culprits include red wine, tea, coffee, dark sodas, and berries; chocolate, curry, balsamic vinegar, and barbeque sauce can stain the enamel, too. 

Extrinsic stain molecule buildup can also happen if you smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco; the tar and nicotine in tobacco products contain potent enamel-staining molecules. 

Inadequate oral hygiene habits 

Another leading (and obvious) cause of extrinsic tooth discoloration is inadequate oral hygiene. This includes insufficient daily brushing and flossing habits, skipped dental exams, and professional cleanings. Subpar dental hygiene promotes discoloration by:

  • Enabling stain molecules to accumulate more quickly
  • Allowing enamel-yellowing plaque and tartar to build up

Even if you don’t consume staining foods and beverages, poor brushing and flossing habits give your diet's starches and sugars more time to attack your enamel. In addition to setting the stage for cavities, this can lead to the development of new microscopic channels in your enamel that trap discoloring residues more easily. 

Some prescription medications

Intrinsic discoloration is a side effect of certain medications. Your dentin layer may darken if you take antihistamines for your allergies, for example, or certain anti-hypertensive drugs to manage high blood pressure. 

When given to developing children, certain antibiotics (tetracycline and doxycycline) can affect enamel formation in unerupted teeth and cause permanent discoloration. 

Tooth injury or dental trauma 

Any serious dental injury or trauma that causes bleeding within a tooth’s pulpy inner chamber or kills its nerve root can lead to permanent intrinsic discoloration. This type of tooth trauma is a frequent consequence of accidental falls, sports mishaps, and car accidents. 

Restore a whiter, brighter smile today

If your pearly whites aren't as white as they used to be, we can help. The first step? Identifying the cause of your tooth discoloration issue. If your problem is extrinsic, your treatment plan for a whiter, brighter smile may include any (or all) of the following:

  • Professional dental cleaning
  • In-office teeth whitening 
  • Brushing and flossing tips
  • Specific dietary adjustments 

Suppose your tooth discoloration is mostly intrinsic or affects just one tooth. In that case, you may be a suitable candidate for one of the concealing offerings of cosmetic dentistry, such as dental bonding, a porcelain crown, or veneers.

We have solutions if you're ready for a whiter, brighter smile. Call our expert team at Hazel Dell Dentistry in Carmel, Indiana, today, or click online to schedule an appointment any time.