Stains and Discolorations on Your Teeth

On the Dark Side

As we get older, our teeth tend to get darker. This may be the result of extrinsic stains (on the outside surface of the tooth) or intrinsic stains (discoloration that becomes part of the enamel).

Extrinsic stains from certain foods, drinks and smoking are hazardous to your smile as they may cause your teeth to darken. These include, but are not limited to, coffee, tea, grape juice, red wine, carrot juice, intense colored fruit berries, beets, and some dark colored sauces like soy or tomato sauce.

Drinks with a low pH (high acid) like sport/energy drinks, colas, and wine may be particularly detrimental as the acid can soften the outer layer of enamel and make it more susceptible to high staining foods that you eat immediately after.

Very hot drinks, like hot tea or coffee can be especially detrimental, because constant temperature change can cause your teeth to expand and contract, allowing stains to penetrate microcracks in the enamel.

Our teeth tend to develop these “craze lines” or tiny cracks in the hard outer layer known as enamel. These cracks normally do not cause any pain, but can easily stain, causing discolored lines on your teeth.

Intrinsic stains are caused by an interruption of the forming tooth. Teeth are forming under the gum line from before birth to around age 10 (for front teeth). During tooth development such things as a high fever, certain medications (particularly tetracyclines) or too much fluoride, may result in very subtle to obvious gray/brown bands or bright white patches from interrupted enamel formation before the tooth erupts.

There are other causes of discoloration. Teeth with old, large amalgam fillings may darken from silver salts released into the tooth from the filling. Trauma to a tooth may cause bleeding inside the pulp or cause the pulp to die. This can create a dark gray appearance to the tooth.

Most extrinsic stains can be removed with a good cleaning and polishing. Other treatments for discoloration include bleaching, bonding and/or porcelain veneers. If stains or tooth darkening are inhibiting your smile, talk to your dentist at your next appointment.

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