Though our teeth are naturally predisposed to having a yellow or grey tint a white smile is almost universally considered desirable. However, over time our teeth can become stained, causing many of us to search for ways to whiten our teeth and prevent them from getting stained again.
Types of Tooth Discolouration
Our teeth can become discoloured for a variety of reasons. Stains on the surface of our teeth, or even changes inside the tooth, can both cause our teeth to discolour. Tooth discolouration causes can be sorted into three main types:
Extrinsic stains are stains that occur on the surface of the tooth and happens when stain-inducing particles such as food or drink residue that is strongly pigmented are allowed to build up in the film of protein that covers our tooth enamel. Extrinsic stains can commonly be treated using regular dental cleanings and a variety of teeth whitening products such as whitening toothpaste.
Intrinsic stains occur beneath the surface of the tooth and occur when stain-causing particles are able to work their way through the outer layer of your tooth and accumulate within the enamel. Intrinsic tooth stains are more difficult to remove then extrinsic stains, but they can be treated. Intrinsic stains typically require either in-office whitening solutions provided by your dentist or by using some at home whitening products such as tray based products or whitening strips.
As we age our teeth tend to accumulate both extrinsic and intrinsic stains, causing discoloration. However, even if we are able to remove both types of stains our teeth still tend to yellow as we age. Over time the core tissue in our teeth, the dentin, yellows over time. At the same time, the enamel that covers the outside of our teeth also begins to thin, allowing the dentin to show through more easily. These intrinsic causes can cause our teeth to discolour, especially if they are also paired with extrinsic stains.
What Causes Teeth to Stain?
Teeth stains, both extrinsic and intrinsic, are caused by a variety of factors. The most common are:
- Strongly pigmented drinks. Consuming coffee, tea, dark coloured pop, and red wine can cause your teeth to become stained. To help keep your smile white consider using a straw whenever you drink something that might stain your teeth. You should also rinse your mouth with water after consuming these drinks so that you can remove the pigmented particles from the surface of your teeth before they have a chance to cause stains.
- Poor dental hygiene. When we don’t brush or floss our teeth often enough plaque and food particles are allowed to remain on the surface, increasing the chances of our teeth becoming stained. If these particles are allowed to linger they may also make their way into the tooth enamel and become intrinsic stains, which are more difficult to treat. Make sure you are brushing your teeth twice per day for at least two minutes and flossing at least once per day to help keep your teeth white and your mouth happy.
- Tobacco usage. Smoking or chewing tobacco is linked to a wide variety of health problems. They can also promote tooth discoloration. Avoiding tobacco products can help keep your teeth white and your body healthy.
- Some medical treatments. Treatments such as taking high blood pressure medications, undergoing chemotherapy, using antihistamines, and or taking some antipsychotic medications can cause our teeth to become discoloured.
- Trauma or disease. Trauma, illness, or disease during childhood can affect how our tooth enamel develops. These developmental problems can occur in the womb or while a child’s teeth are developing, and can cause their teeth to become discoloured. Adults whose teeth are damaged may also experience tooth discolouration as a result of the trauma.
How Can I Get Rid of The Stains on my Teeth?
While the best way to keep your teeth white is to avoid letting them get stained in the first place that information doesn’t help remove stains that have already accumulated.
Depending on the type and severity of the stains on your teeth there are a variety of whitening options available to you. However, before you begin any teeth whitening regime you should speak with your dentist since teeth whitening may not be a suitable option for everyone.
For Minor Surface Stains
Minor surface stains may be treated with surface whiteners, such as a whitening toothpaste. While all toothpastes contain mild abrasives to help you remove plaque and food particles from your teeth whitening toothpastes also typically include polishing agents or chemicals to increase their stain-removing effectiveness. When choosing a whitening toothpaste always opt for CDA approved brands so you can avoid choosing a toothpaste that is too abrasive and may damage your teeth.
However, whitening toothpastes do not contain bleaching agents, so they can only help with surface stains. For more serious stains you will likely need stronger at home products or an in-office whitening treatment.
For More Serious Surface Stains
If a whitening toothpaste just doesn’t seem to cut it you may need to consider using a bleaching product. Whitening gels involve applying a peroxide-based compound directly to your teeth using a small brush. Whitening strips use the same compounds, but instead of painting them on your teeth using a brush they are spread onto thin clear plastic strips which you then apply to your teeth. Both types of products contain bleaching agents and should give you visible results within a matter of days.
You may also want to consider using a tray-based teeth whitening product. These can be purchased either from your dentist or over-the-counter, and involve filling a mouth-guard shaped tray with a peroxide-based gel whitening solution. The tray is typically worn for a few hours, but the exact time varies from product to product. Products designed for nighttime use tend to contain lower peroxide concentrations than those designed for daytime use. This is so that the chemicals involved in the process are less likely to irritate your gums or cause tooth sensitivity.
For Really Tough Stains
Depending on what types of stains are involved, and their severity, you may need to opt for an in-office treatment. In office treatments are by far the most effective and efficient way to remove tooth stains. During an in-office whitening treatment, the whitening product is applied directly to your teeth and may be combined with heat, a laser, or a special light.
Most in-office treatments offer visible results after the first session, but more heavily stained teeth may require several treatments in order to achieve the level of whitening you are looking for. In office, treatments are more effective than at home treatments for a variety of reasons.
- They use stronger products. While at home products typically only contain between 10% and 22% carbamide peroxide in-office treatments typically contain between 15% and 43% carbamide peroxide.
- The mouth trays are custom fit. Before your in-office treatment, your dental team will take a mould of your mouth, which they will use to create a custom tray for you. These custom trays allow more contact between your teeth and the whitening gel than one-size-fits-all trays, and can also help ensure that there is minimal contact between your gums and the whitening gel. This is important because whitening gel can irritate your gums and cause you discomfort.
- They employ additional protective measures. Dentists also typically employ additional protective measures during whitening treatments, such as using rubber shields to protect your gums and any cavities that you have.
- Your treatment is tailored to your needs. One of the main reasons in-office treatments are more effective is the fact that your dentist can help you determine if bleaching is the right course of action for you. By reviewing your medical history and conducting a full oral exam your dentist can help you determine the root cause of your teeth stains and help you select the treatment that is best suited to your needs.
Will My Teeth Get Stained Again?
Whether or not your stains return depends a lot on what caused them in the first place. If your tooth discolouration was mostly caused by eating stain-causing foods, consuming tobacco, or not practicing good oral hygiene then your stains will likely return if you don’t adjust your habits. If your stains are caused by medications you are taking or medical treatments you are undergoing then your stains will likely return as long as you are continuing to take those medications or undergo those treatments. However, stains that are caused by trauma are unlikely to return unless you retraumatize the area.
The best thing you can do to help remove teeth stains and keep them from returning is to talk to your dentist. They will be able to help you determine what is causing your teeth to become stained, what you can do to remove the stains, and what you should be doing to prevent further stains from forming in the future.