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Tooth Discolouration Why It Happens and What You Can Do About It

Worried that your smile isn’t as bright as you’d like it to be? Maybe you should think about what you put in your mouth.

A recent study shows that the colour of your teeth is greatly affected by your eating habits. You can stain your teeth by drinking coffee, smoking, and even by consuming foods that contain a high concentration of food colouring. Researchers also discovered many other things that can make teeth appear yellow, brown, or even greyish. While some individuals may suffer from overall discolouration, others may experience dark spots on their teeth. Each case of teeth discolouration differs in nature, and while most can be treated with cosmetic treatments, others may require the attention of dental practitioner.

Some individuals may experience a mild staining on their teeth caused by external factors (i.e. foods and beverages) which are controllable. However, others may suffer from a discolouration caused by internal or genetic factors, something they have no control over. Whichever may the case be, there are ways to treat tooth stains and there are many options for treatment for individuals to choose from. Although every case of teeth discolouration is a cause of concern, not all have to be treated by dentists.

While modern day dentistry and consumer products offer many different treatment options for stained and discoloured teeth, it is important to understand why it happens in the first place. By determining the cause of tooth discolouration, you can make informed decisions about the different types of treatment you may need.

Types of Tooth Discolouration

In order to understand where tooth discolouration comes from, we have to look at the three different types of tooth stains: extrinsic, intrinsic, and age-related. While most individuals experience tooth discolouration due to extrinsic factors, intrinsic factors and age-related causes can also determine the colour of your teeth.

Extrinsic stains, also known as surface stains, happen when outside elements affect the surface (enamel) of the tooth. The leading causes of extrinsic stains include the following:

Foods and Drinks:

The more carbonated beverages you drink, the more likely you are to develop tooth stains. While it’s obvious that drinks such as coffee and soda pops can distort natural tooth colour, there are certain types of foods that cause tooth stains as well. Fruits and vegetables that are genetically modified tend to include a high level of food colouring and snacks that are high in sugar and other chemicals can cause staining on the teeth.


Smokers often develop yellow tinted teeth regardless of how well they maintain their oral health. This is mainly because of the nicotine in the cigarettes, which can make teeth yellow in a very short period of time. Chewing tobacco can also cause stains on the teeth because of the tar in the tobacco and unfortunately lead towards other mouth related problems. Many heavy smokers and tobacco consumers experience brown teeth over time, from years of heavy smoking.

Poor Oral Hygiene:

It’s pretty obvious that if you don’t brush or floss your teeth to remove plaque and stain-producing substances such as coffee or tobacco, your teeth are likely to develop discolouration. Inadequate care of oral hygiene is often the number one cause of tooth discolouration and it can be prevented by simply brushing and flossing regularly

Intrinsic stains are a bit more complicated as they affect the inner structure (dentin) of the tooth. This type of discolouration causes a tooth to become dark or develop a yellow, brown, or greyish tint and is harder to control. Intrinsic stains mostly occur from the following:

  •  Dental Treatments: If you’ve received dental treatment recently and have noticed a change in your tooth colour shortly after, chances are there has been a reaction with the material used for your treatment. Dental treatments such as amalgam restorations include silver sulfide-containing materials that can cast a grey-black colour on your teeth. Also, children are prone to developing white spots or lines on their teeth if they receive cavity treatments, a condition known as dental fluorosis. - 
  • Environmental Factors: Fluoride is the leading cause of tooth discolouration when it comes to adults and children. High fluoride levels in water and excessive use of toothpaste and supplements that include fluoride can cause teeth discolouration. - 
  • Genetics: Some people are born with naturally brighter or thicker enamel, causing them to have a lighter shade of white compared to others. Similarly, those who have a thinner enamel are likely to have tooth shades that are darker and range from tints of light yellow to light grey. 
  • Lastly, age-related tooth discolouration is a combination of both extrinsic and intrinsic factors. As individuals age, the enamel that covers their teeth gets thinner, allowing more dentin to show through, which naturally turns yellow over time. 

While unsightly tooth stains can cause a great deal of awkwardness for many people, there are ways to prevent it from happening.

Elementary prevention methods include brushing and flossing your teeth regularly. Also, it’s important that individuals maintain good oral health and hygiene by taking extra care of their mouth after eating. Many dental practitioners recommend rinsing your mouth thoroughly with water after consuming foods that are prone to staining teeth. Regular checkups and routine cleaning treatments with a dental hygienist can also help. There are many cosmetic treatments such as teeth whitening, ultrasonic cleaning, and dental veneers that can help remove tough surface stains.

While most cases of tooth discolouration are cosmetic in nature, certain types of tooth stains might require specialised care from dental care professionals. Some cases of intrinsic stains can be treated by dentists. Tooth discolouration caused by nerve or blood vessel damage can be prevented through treatments such as root canals and removal of the pulp (inner part of the tooth).

Lastly, by developing a healthier lifestyle, you can avoid tooth discolouration all together. If you are a heavy smoker or an avid coffee drinker, consider cutting back or even quitting. You can also improve your dental hygiene and make sure to see a dental hygienist every six months for routine checkups and cleaning. If your teeth appear to have an abnormal colour despite maintaining good oral hygiene and cutting back on foods and drinks that cause tooth discolouration, consider making an appointment with your dentist. 

.Dr. Raj Wadhwani is the founder and lead dentist at Market Hill Dentistry, a practice in Royston. He has special interest in using advance technology for orthodontics, dental implants, and gum management with further enthusiasm in laser dentistry and CAD/CAM practices. He also teaches and mentors at the Royal College of Surgeons. 

Do you suffer with tooth discolouration? Have these tips helped you? 

Let us know what you think and share your experiences with us and others,, follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, Instagram and YouTube

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