If you’re starting to notice tooth discoloration dimming your smile, find out what you can do, what causes tooth stains and how can you clean your stained teeth.
Types of tooth stains
In order to know how to remove stains from teeth, it’s helpful to know what type of stain you’re dealing with. The American Dental Association identifies two types of tooth stains:1
- Extrinsic Stains - Extrinsic stains occur on the surface of the tooth. They’re commonly caused by tobacco use or consumption of highly pigmented foods or beverages. Brushing with a whitening toothpaste or undergoing in-office dental treatments can reduce this type of tooth discoloration.
- Intrinsic Stains - Intrinsic stains occur beneath the enamel. They’re often related to aging, antibiotic use, and fluorosis, among other causes. Internal stains can usually be reduced by bleaching.
What causes stained teeth?
Knowing what may have caused your tooth stains can help you know how to take better care of your teeth and prevent further damage in the future. It’s a good idea to speak with your dentist if you’re unsure of the cause of your stained teeth, but tooth discoloration is often caused by the following:
Tooth stains from certain foods & drinks
Various dark colored foods and drinks contain chromogens. These chemicals can stain tooth enamel.2 And, if you aren’t practicing good dental hygiene, those stains can quickly become permanent. Coffee, black tea, both red and white wine, berries and dark colored sauces are common culprits. Artificially colored foods and drinks such as sodas, popsicles and candies can also stain teeth.
How you can prevent tooth stains from food
One way to prevent tooth stains from food is to limit your consumption of dark colored foods and drinks. But there are also ways to mitigate their effects. Use a straw when drinking any beverages other than water. Brush your teeth immediately after eating highly pigmented foods. A study from the American Journal of Dentistry also found that chewing sugar-free gum can prevent extrinsic teeth stains.3
How tobacco products stain teeth
Smoking isn’t just bad for your health — it’s bad for your smile as well. Cigarette smoking and smokeless tobacco use can lead to a number of adverse oral effects, including tooth discoloration.4 Tobacco usually causes yellow or brown stains on teeth that are difficult to remove.
How you can prevent tooth stains from tobacco
The healthiest and best way to prevent tobacco staining is by quitting smoking. If you continue smoking, take care of your teeth by practicing good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth right after you smoke and use a special smoker’s toothpaste.
Tooth stains from tartar
Plaque is a sticky substance containing bacteria that forms on the surface of teeth.5 But, when plaque isn’t regularly removed by brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar. Tartar buildup can leave brown or yellow stains on the teeth and it can only be removed by a dental professional during an oral cleaning.
Plaque buildup can also lead to tooth decay. White stains on teeth are a common first sign of tooth decay. If left unchecked, later stages of tooth decay can cause black stains on the teeth.
How you can prevent tooth stains from tartar
Brush your teeth properly at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss each day, eat a healthy diet and limit snacks, and visit your dentist regularly. Good oral care habits can help eliminate plaque, prevent tartar buildup, and keep your teeth stain-free.6
Tooth stains from aging
As you get older, you may find yourself at a higher risk for dental problems. One of the effects aging can have on your teeth is tooth darkening, due to changes in dentin. The enamel on your teeth can also thin with age, causing yellow stains on teeth.7
How you can prevent tooth stains from aging
It’s impossible to reverse all the effects of aging but avoiding tobacco and dark-pigmented foods can keep your smile looking younger for longer. Practicing good oral hygiene will also help.
Tooth stains from fluorosis
Fluorosis is the appearance of faint white stains on the teeth that occurs when younger children consume too much fluoride when teeth are developing.8 It isn’t a disease and it doesn’t affect the health of your teeth — just the look of them.
How you can prevent tooth stains from fluorosis
The chance of developing fluorosis only exists until about age eight, when teeth are still forming under the gums. Parents can help prevent their children from developing fluorosis by supervising their brushing habits and treating highly fluoridated water.
Other possible causes of stained teeth
Certain diseases, tooth defects, heavy antibiotic use, genetics and past dental work can also cause tooth discoloration.9 Your dentist should be able to help you determine the likely cause of your tooth stains. In most cases, whitening treatments will be able to help remove these tooth stains as well.
How to remove stains from your teeth
No matter what originally caused your tooth stains, many effective whitening and tooth stain removal options are available even for sensitive teeth. Cosmetic tooth bleaching is a $3.2 billion global industry.10 But that doesn’t mean you’ll have to pay a lot to restore your white, stain-free smile. Practicing good oral hygiene and using over-the-counter products can go a long way. Or if you’re looking for a quicker, more effective solution, your dentist can provide you with other whitening treatments, which you may save money on if you have dental insurance.
Practice good oral hygiene
If your tooth stains are extrinsic, practicing adequate oral hygiene can often be enough to make them go away. Brush your teeth twice daily, floss every day, and visit your dentist for a cleaning and a checkup twice a year.
Over-the-counter whitening products
Switching to a whitening toothpaste can help remove stains from your teeth.11 Baking soda can also help. The American Dental Association found that baking soda-based toothpastes were more effective in whitening and stain removal than many non-baking soda-based toothpastes.12
Many other over-the-counter whitening products are also available to treat both intrinsic and extrinsic stains, including strips, trays and gels. To make sure they’re safe and effective when used as directed, look for products that bear the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
Your dentist can also provide you with additional whitening products that can prove even more effective. Make an appointment with your dentist to see what products are available to you.
In-office whitening treatments
Most dentists also provide in-office whitening treatments. If you have dental insurance, these may be partially covered. These treatments can be expensive, but they’re usually faster than over-the-counter products.
Once you’ve whitened your teeth, all that’s left to do is to make sure they stay white. Practice good oral hygiene, mitigate the effects of highly-pigmented foods, avoid tobacco and continue to see your dentist regularly.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.