Staining on teeth is extremely common. Genetics play a role, with some people naturally having more yellow/grey teeth or a brighter enamel than others and the colour is not necessarily an indicator of healthy teeth. As we age, our teeth may require more care to maintain their natural colour.
Discolouration is slightly different from staining:
- It occurs as a result of a specific problem, e.g. when a silver filling leaks within the tooth or if the nerve in the tooth dies, making it appear darker
- Some medications can also cause discolouration of the teeth.
Extrinsic (surface) stains can be caused by:
- Poor oral hygiene; plaque stuck on the teeth can turn yellow
- Certain foods; includes tea, coffee, berries, curry, fried food and colas
- Iron tablets may leave black marks
- Mouthwashes containing the antibacterial agent chlorhexidine
Intrinsic (internal) stains can be caused by:
- Older people can develop brown staining on the teeth as enamel wears thin
- Antibiotics such as tetracycline
- Swallowing of excess fluoride toothpaste by young children can cause white flecks on the teeth
- Smoking can cause a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic staining
- Tooth decay can also cause both internal and external stains
- Extrinsic staining can be avoided by a thorough oral hygiene programme of brushing and flossing
- Whitening toothpastes may be effective in removing stains but they cannot lighten the colour as they do not remain in contact with teeth for long enough
- Regular dental check ups will help identify any problems at an early stage
- The dentist will diagnose the cause of the staining/discolouration and check for any underlying problems that may need treatment
- The hygienist can clean your teeth professionally to remove plaque and debris that may be causing extrinsic staining. Thorough cleaning by the hygienist will remove most external staining.
- If appropriate, a course of whitening treatment can be prescribed. Tooth whitening is a chemical process used to lighten the colour of teeth. Home whitening: This involves placing whitening agent in a special mouth guard, fitted to your mouth and worn at night. Oxygen penetrates the tooth structure and lightens the colour. Treatment should always be supervised by a dentist to ensure safe and successful lightening. It may be carried out on a single tooth or the entire mouth.