Tooth Discoloration

What Is Tooth Discoloration?

Tooth discoloration is when the color of your teeth change. They don’t look as bright or white as they should. Your teeth may darken, turn from white to different colors, or develop white or dark spots in places.

Reasons for tooth discoloration may be:

  • Extrinsic. Caused by something that comes in contact with your teeth
  • Intrinsic. Caused by something inside your teeth or body
  • Age-related. Changes to your tooth color that happen later in life

Tooth Discoloration Causes

There are several causes of tooth discoloration, including:

  • Foods/drinks. Coffee, tea, colas, wines, and certain fruits and vegetables (for example, apples and potatoes) can stain your teeth.
  • Tobacco use. Smoking or chewing tobacco can stain teeth.
  • Poor dental hygiene. Not brushing, flossing, and rinsing enough to remove plaque and stain-producing substances.
  • Disease. Several diseases that affect enamel (the hard surface of the teeth) and dentin (the underlying material under enamel) can lead to tooth discoloration. Treatments for certain conditions can also affect tooth color. For example, head and neck radiation and chemotherapy can cause teeth discoloration. In addition, certain infections in pregnant mothers can lead to tooth discoloration in their babies by affecting enamel development.
  • Medications. The antibiotics tetracycline and doxycycline are known to discolor teeth when given to children whose teeth are still developing (before age 8). Mouth rinses and washes containing chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium chloride can also stain teeth. Antihistamines (like Benadryl), antipsychotic drugs, and drugs for high blood pressure also cause teeth discoloration.
  • Dental materials. Some of the materials used in dentistry, such as amalgam restorations, especially silver sulfide-containing materials, can cast a gray-black color to teeth.
  • Aging. As you age, the outer layer of enamel on your teeth wears away, revealing the natural color of dentin.
  • Genetics. Some people have naturally brighter or thicker enamel than others.
  • Environment. Excessive fluoride either from environmental sources (naturally high fluoride levels in water) or from excessive use (fluoride applications, rinses, toothpaste, and fluoride supplements taken by mouth) can cause teeth discoloration.
  • Trauma. For example, damage from a fall can disturb enamel formation in young children whose teeth are still developing. Trauma can also cause discoloration to adult teeth.

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Tooth discoloration causes by color

How the color of your teeth changes may help point to the cause:

Yellow: As you age, the white enamel surface of your teeth may wear down. The yellow core of your teeth becomes more visible.

Brown: Tobacco, dark beverages like tea or coffee, and poor brushing habits that lead to tooth decay may cause teeth to turn brown.

White: As young teeth develop, too much fluoride can cause white spots. This is called fluorosis and it happens when teeth come into contact with too much fluoride from drinking water or excess use of fluoride rinses or toothpastes.

Black: Tooth decay or tooth pulp necrosis may turn your teeth grayish or black. Chewing betel nuts can also turn teeth black. Exposure to minerals like iron, manganese, or silver in industrial settings or from any supplements may create a black line on your teeth.

Purple: Red wine can stain the enamel of your teeth the color of your beverage.

Tooth Discoloration Prevention

A few simple lifestyle changes may help prevent teeth discoloration:

  • If you’re a coffee drinker or smoker, consider cutting back or quitting all together.
  • Improve your dental hygiene by brushing, flossing, and using a mouthwash daily.
  • Have your teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist every 6 months.
  • If the color of your teeth change without ready explanation and other symptoms are also present, make an appointment to see your dentist.

Tooth Discoloration Treatments

Treatment options to whiten teeth can vary depending on the cause of the discoloration and may include:

  • Using tooth brushing and flossing techniques
  • Avoidance of the foods and beverages that cause stains
  • Using over-the-counter whitening agents
  • In-home whitening agents purchased from your dentist
  • In-office whitening procedures
  • Bonding. A dentist or prosthodontist fuses material to stained areas of your teeth to change their color or shape.
  • Veneers. A dentist or prosthodontist puts a thin shell of material over the entire front of your tooth to change the color or shape.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on September 08, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

MedlinePlus: "Tooth - abnormal colors."

Columbia University College of Dental Medicine: "Tooth Discoloration."

Cleveland Clinic: “Tooth Discoloration.”

Tooth Club: “Oral Health Care Zone for Grown-ups.”

National Health Service: “Tooth Decay.”

Ontario Dental Hygienists Association: “Tooth Staining.”

Vermont Department of Health: “The Facts About Betel Nut and Tobacco.”

Acta Odontologica Scandinavica: “Influence of coffee and red wine on tooth color during and after bleaching.”

Canadian Dental Association: “Bonding & Veneers.”

American Dental Association: “Bonding.”

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