Posted on September 9, 2009 by Dr. White
To help answer some of your questions, we have listed and described the most common causes of tooth stains and tooth discoloration. Once we can understand what causes teeth to become discolored, we can reduce the amount of discoloration, as well as prevent staining.
Oral hygiene – A lack of brushing and flossing – at least twice each day – can lead to a plaque build up on the teeth and under the gum tissue, which then hardens into tartar, giving the teeth a yellowish appearance.
Tooth enamel is porous, which means substances such as food, liquid, and tobacco, which left on the teeth too long, begin to sink into the inner layers of the teeth causing stains and discoloration.
A good oral hygiene routine not only reduces the risk of tooth decay and other dental problems, but it also reduces the number of foreign substances that can be absorbed into the enamel.
- Genetic coloring – We are born with a certain shade of tooth color that ranges from yellow to grey and intensifies over time. Teeth with a yellowish hue tend to respond better to bleaching than the darker grey.
- Genetic thickness – Another genetic trait that becomes more pronounced with age, tooth thickness and transparency, is unaffected by any whitening process. All teeth display some level of transparency, but teeth that are thick and opaque have an advantage in that they appear lighter in color, sparkle more, and are more responsive to bleaching.
Thinner, more transparent teeth have less of the pigment that responds to bleaching. This is most often noticed in the front teeth.
According to cosmetic dentists, transparency is the only condition that cannot be corrected by any form of teeth whitening.
Age – There is a direct connection between age and tooth color. Teeth darken as a result of wear, tear and stain accumulation over the years.
Young adults and teens tend to experience dramatic and immediate results from teeth whitening.
As we mature through our twenties, our teeth begin to show a yellowish tinge, adding to the effort it takes to complete a successful teeth whitening campaign.
In our forties, yellow teeth begin to turn brown. At this point teeth whitening becomes more difficult and often requires regular maintenance in order to increase the effectiveness of the process.
When we reach our fifties, our teeth have absorbed a wide variety of stubborn stains that can be difficult to remove, if not impossible. Teeth whitening at this stage can still work, but must be done often and aggressively in order to have the proper effect.
Drinking and eating habits – Regular consumption of coffee, soda, red wine, tea, carrots, acai berries, and other deeply colored fruits and vegetables result in significant staining over the years. Coffee and dark colored berries are thought to be the worst offenders.
Acidic foods such as energy drinks (like Venom Energy Mojave Rattler), vinegar, and citrus fruits contribute to the erosion of tooth enamel over the years. When this happens, the transparency of the surface of our teeth increases, causing more of the yellow-colored dentin to show through.
- Smoking habits – Smoking turns your teeth brown faster than drinking coffee. Nicotine causes intrinsic discoloration by leaving behind brownish deposits and residue that are quickly absorbed into the tooth structure.
- Grinding habits – Frequently caused by stress, teeth grinding or teeth gnashing can lead to tiny micro-cracks in the enamel, which can cause biting edges to darken.
- Facial trauma – Significant cracks can appear in the teeth due to falls and other injuries. These cracks collect a large amount of debris and often cause staining in and around the cracked surfaces.
Exposure to drugs and chemicals – Tetracycline, an antibiotic used to treat acne and rosacea, when used during tooth formation produces dark grey or brown stains that are very difficult to remove. Since many teenagers use tetracycline to treat teenage acne, this can become a problem if used for too long a period of time.
Flouride, when consumed excessively, causes dental fluorosis, which results in a series of white stripes or ribbons on the teeth. This is another condition that can not be fixed by teeth whitening, but the whitening process can often lead to a blending-in of the fluorosis stripes.
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