Tooth Discoloration

Medically Reviewed by Robert Brennan on April 04, 2023
4 min read

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, meaning it's caused by something that comes in contact with your teeth
  • Intrinsic, meaning it's caused by something inside your teeth or body
  • Age-related -- happening later in life

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 antibiotic stetracycline 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.

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.

If your teeth have stains that are getting in the way of a great smile, fight back. You've got lots of ways to brighten them up and keep the shine from going away.

Things you eat or drink that can leave a mark on your hands or clothes can also stain your choppers. That's why it's a good idea to brush or rinse your mouth after you've enjoyed them. Stain makers to watch out for include:

  • Coffee or tea
  • Soda
  • Red and white wine
  • Grape or cranberry juice
  • Blueberries
  • Beets
  • Soy sauce
  • Tomato sauce

A few other lifestyle changes may help prevent teeth discoloration:

  • If you’re a coffee drinker or smoker, consider cutting back or quitting.
  • Drink with a straw. This can help keep stains away when you drink soda, juice, or iced coffee, or tea. The liquid won't get near the visible front surfaces of your teeth.
  • Improve your dental hygiene by brushing, flossing, and using an antibacterial mouthwash daily. All three can help you fight plaque, a white, hard material that forms on your teeth. It makes them sticky and gives stains something to hold on to.
  • Have your teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist every 6 months.  It will keep your mouth healthy and give you a brighter smile.
  • If the color of your teeth change without ready explanation and other symptoms are also present, make an appointment to see your dentist.

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

  • Using tooth brushing and flossing techniques
  • Avoiding the foods and beverages that cause stains
  • Using over-the-counter whitening agents. They might make your teeth sensitive, but this side effect usually goes away after the bleaching period is over. If your gums get irritated, talk to your dentist.
  • In-home whitening agents purchased from your dentist
  • In-office whitening procedures.  If you get your teeth bleached at your dentist's office, it may take one or more visits. They will put a protective gel or rubber shield on your gums and then apply a bleaching agent to your teeth. They can also make a custom-fitted tray that you can use at home with whitening gel.
  • 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.