Tooth discoloration is a change in the color of your teeth. They may look less bright and white or may turn yellow. They may even develop white or dark spots in certain places. Tooth discoloration can have several causes: extrinsic (outside the body), intrinsic (inside the body), or age-related.
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A healthy white smile is on just about everybody’s wish list. There are many reasons why your teeth may darken. Some we can’t control, such as age or accidents when we are young that may disturb our tooth enamel’s development. That’s why it’s important to discuss any plans you have for whitening your teeth with your dentist. He or she will be able to tell you if your tooth discoloration is simply staining caused by lifestyle factors — such as drinking too much coffee — or may be more a matter of dental health. Although whitening is usually done for cosmetic reasons, your dentist can guide you on what options you have for treating the type of staining you have. The good news is that in many cases reversing teeth stains is within our reach. That makes pursuing a healthy white smile worthwhile.
Tooth stains caused by lifestyle habits:
. Foods/drinks: Coffee, tea, colas, wines, and some starchy foods such as pasta or potatoes, can create conditions that cause staining.
. Tobacco use: Smoking or chewing tobacco can stain teeth.
Tooth stains caused by dental health:
. Poor dental hygiene: Forgetting to brush and floss your teeth can cause plaque and food stains to build up. Skipping professional dental cleanings can also allow stains to start.
. Disease: Diseases that prevent normal development of tooth enamel (the white exterior of your teeth) and dentin (the more porous “yellower” core under enamel) can lead to tooth discoloration. Certain medical treatments, such as head and neck radiation and chemotherapy can cause teeth to discolor. Some infections in pregnant mothers can affect enamel development in your baby and discolor their teeth.
. Medications: It has long been known that certain drugs discolor teeth in developing children. The antibiotics tetracycline and doxycycline can affect enamel formation in children under the age of 8. Mouth rinses and washes containing chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium chloride can also stain teeth. Antihistamines (like Benadryl®), antipsychotic drugs and antihypertensive medications also can cause teeth discoloration.
. Dental materials: Some amalgam restorations, especially silver sulfide-containing materials, can give a gray-black cast to your teeth.
. Aging: As you age, the outer layer of enamel on your teeth gets worn away exposing the yellow dentin. Your tooth dentin also grows as you age, which decreases the size of the pulp. The translucency of the tooth reduces, making it look darker.
. Genetics: Thicker and whiter enamel runs in some families.
. Environment: During tooth formation, too much fluoride either from environmental sources (high fluoride levels in water) or from excessive use of (fluoride applications, rinses, toothpaste) can cause fluorosis, which look like white spots on teeth.
. Trauma: During sports, kids can get hit in the mouth. If they are younger than 8, the damage can disturb enamel formation. Trauma can also discolor adult teeth when a sports injury or other impact causes blood flow to decrease to the tooth or the nerve to die.
While no one knows for sure how many of us suffer from stained teeth, it’s clear that how healthy and white our teeth are is something we care about. These days, we see a shiny smile as a sort of social status symbol, making whitening products and procedures pretty popular.
A simple stroll down any drugstore oral care aisle reveals a wide assortment of whitening trays, strips, toothpastes and mouthwashes. Now more than ever, we are putting our money where our mouths are, spending more on both over-the-counter and professional whitening products and procedures every year. If you’re ready to whiten your smile, there are options for every budget — but it pays to know which are safe and effective — and which may do more harm than good.
Treatment options vary and not everyone is a candidate for every whitening method. The type of stain you have determines how many shades lighter your tooth will whiten. Keep in mind that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve whitening products, which is why it’s critical that you discuss any whitener with your dentist before using it.
It’s also important to understand that dental restorations, including bonding, veneers, crowns, bridges, dentures or implants cannot be whitened because they are made of manmade materials, usually porcelain. Only natural enamel teeth can be whitened, and only then if the cause is something your dentist considers reversible. Depending on the cause of discoloration, your dentist may suggest one or more of the following options.
. Avoiding stain-causing foods/beverages. Our habits can be culprits in teeth staining.
. Applying over-the-counter whiteners available in stick-on strips or tooth-shaped trays.
. Cleaning your teeth daily using proper tooth brushing and flossing techniques. (Though you should be practicing good dental hygiene anyway, upping your game can improve your teeth’s appearance if your habits usually aren’t what they should be.)
. Professional whitening is performed in-office by a dentist who uses professional whitening products and procedures to speed the whitening process. Your dentist will apply a hydrogen peroxide solution. Some products may require heat with a special light to accelerate the bleaching process. Other professionally available products will have a higher concentration of whitener, sometimes with desensitizer, and some type of custom tray for better whitener adhesion. The procedure is safe in the hands of a skilled dentist.
. Dental bonding is a procedure in which your dentist applies a white resin to your tooth and hardens it with a special curing light. The light ‘bonds' the resin to the tooth to improve the color and structure of your smile.
. Dental crowns are placed to protect, cover and restore damaged teeth and can whiten your smile. Your dentist can customize a crown’s color to match your other teeth.
. Dental veneers are custom-made porcelain ‘shells’ designed to cover the front of the tooth to improve the color and shape of your smile. They are fragile: about the size and thickness of a false fingernail. If you choose veneers, your dentist will caution you to avoid biting into hard foods with your front teeth to avoid breakage.
The desire to try DIY home whitening is understandable. If it works, it’s natural and it costs less — then why not. Right? Well, the questions you should ask yourself first are, “Do these teeth whitening tricks you see in magazines and on blogs really work? And is teeth whitening safe? The answer is no to one or both of these questions in most cases.
Here are some dos and don’ts of DIY whitening:
Taking care of your teeth is all about honing healthy habits. With just a few simple lifestyle changes, you may be able to prevent tooth discoloration. If you’re a coffee drinker, consider cutting back or finding an alternative beverage. And if you smoke, seek help to quit as smoking also affects much more than your dental health. Up your dental hygiene game by brushing and flossing daily and get regular dental check-ups and cleanings every six months. If your teeth appear to be an abnormal color that lasts, despite your best oral hygiene efforts, and if other symptoms are also present, make an appointment to see your dentist.