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