What are the common causes of stained teeth?

When patients come in with tooth staining we start by seeing whether the staining is intrinsic or extrinsic.

Stained teeth can affect the confidence people have in their smile

Stained teeth can often affect the amount of confidence people have in their smile and their overall appearance

The type of staining depends upon the cause of the staining, but also has implications for the treatment. Intrinsic staining is staining that comes from within the tooth, whereas extrinsic is on the surface of the tooth.

Tooth staining type one: Intrinsic staining

Intrinsic tooth stains can be due to a number of reasons:

  • Problems during infancy: Some people’s teeth have always had that stained appearance since they were a baby. These kinds of staining are largely due to:
    • Some kinds of antibiotics that they had as a baby. A common type of antibiotic tooth staining is tetracycline staining.
    • If someone had a fever as a baby it can affect their developing teeth. Unfortunately that type is one thing that they couldn’t have prevented.
  • Dental Trauma: If someone has sustained a trauma or a knock to the tooth, then the tooth can develop internal stains that discolour the tooth. Think of it like a bruise one might get on their skin but instead its on the tooth and it doesn’t go away
  • Dental treatment: Root canal therapy on a tooth can sometimes leave that that tooth look greyer. This doesn’t happen to everyone but it does occur in some cases.

Tooth staining type two: Extrinsic staining

Extrinsic tooth stains, on the other hand, are on the surface of the tooth or teeth. The common causes of extrinsic tooth discolouration are:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Tea or coffee
  • Red wine,
  • Previous white fillings that have gone yellow or brown over time.

This type of extrinsic tooth staining can cause yellow teeth, grey teeth and in extreme cases brown teeth.

What are the different treatment options for stained teeth?

The options for treating discoloured teeth depends on two things:

  1. The degree that the tooth is stained
  2. Whether it’s intrinsic or extrinsic staining.

Extrinsic staining is often easily polished away. This can be done our Oral Health Therapist or Dentist at your regular 6 monthly active maintenance visit, or dental check up.

Tooth whitening is not the only option for stained teeth

A white smile without stained teethIt is a common misconception that tooth whitening or bleaching is the main treatment for stained teeth. In reality most extrinsic tooth staining can be removed by simply removing the stained layer above the white tooth enamel.

If there is a lot of extrinsic staining, for instance if you have smoked two packs a day or drink lots of coffee, then you might need a bit polishing than the average person. This might involve coming in for a polish every 3 months until the tooth colour returns to white. At your initial consultation we will decide together with you a plan of attack and then adjust along the way depending on the results we are able to achieve. There is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for tooth staining.

Intrinsic tooth stains are a little harder to treat than extrinsic. Depending on the severity and cause of the tooth staining there are a number of treatment options available:

Can a Dentist tell before they start whether bleaching will work on tooth stains?

Most of the time the dentist can assess which treatment will be most effective in each case. When making our assessment and recommendations for tooth staining, as with any dental treatment, we tend to err on the side of caution for two reasons:

  • We don’t like to raise people’s expectations beyond what is possible
  • When paying the cost of treating tooth staining naturally people would prefer to pay for a treatment that will deliver a good result.

This is why an assessment by the Dentist or Oral Health Therapist is important – to find out the best way to treat the tooth staining.

There are options for difficult tooth staining cases

In the cases where a root canal treated tooth is stained from the inside dentists have the option to whiten the tooth from the inside. In these cases, we would whiten the tooth from the inside out using the original access hole for the root canal work.

What should people do if they have stained teeth around a tooth cap or crown?

AQD_smile6We see these type of cases where, for example, someone got a front tooth with a crown on it 10 years ago. The crown will still be beautifully white but the rest of the teeth are now looking darker.

In this case we will treat the tooth or teeth around it with either polishing or bleaching to bring the colour back to the same colour as the crown.

Patients often use the term ‘tooth cap’ for what we know as a tooth coloured filling, and sometimes in these cases we may need to replace the tooth coloured filling to change its colour or bleach around it to change the colour of the tooth next to it.

Can you treat one stained tooth as well as a group of stained teeth?

If the treatment is professionally applied, rather than with a take-home tooth whitening kit, then it is possible for us to target a single stained tooth or a group of stained teeth.

We will often do this to bring one tooth back in line with the colour of the surrounding teeth.

If you have any other questions or wish to discuss your individual situation then call us for a consultation on (08) 8346 3940.