Tooth discoloration can be the cause of great embarrassment and can make people feel self conscious about smiling. It is important to remember that no one’s teeth are naturally perfectly white and it’s normal for our teeth to become duller as we age. The normal aging process means that as the outer enamel wears away, the natural colour of the dentin underneath can result in teeth appearing discoloured. Nevertheless, important lifestyle factors also play a large part in tooth discolouration and it is important to recognise these.

In addition to the normal aging process, there are two main causes of tooth discoloration

Extrinsic Discoloration 

This occurs when the outer layer of the enamel becomes stained because of the consumption of certain substances. Consumables that can cause tooth discoloration include:

  • Food and drink such as coffee, tea, wine, cola, tobacco and certain fruits and vegetables e.g. apples and potatoes
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Poor dental hygiene that results in the accumulation of stain-causing particles

Intrinsic Discoloration 

This happens when the internal structure of the tooth, the dentin, darkens or develops a yellow hue. This can be caused by a number of things:

  • Exposure to too much fluoride during childhood
  • Chipped teeth which can cause discoloration due to nerve or enamel damage
  • Medication such as tetracycline and doxycycline antibiotics, some antihistamines, antipsychotics and antihypertensives
  • Several diseases such can affect the colour of the enamel or dentin. In addition, treatment such as chemotherapy can also cause discoloration

How can I prevent tooth discoloration?

Having a good dental hygiene routine can prevent extrinsic tooth discoloration. This includes brushing your teeth after every meal. Dentists also recommend rinsing your mouth with water immediately after consuming foods or drinks that could stain your teeth, such as coffee, wine or cola. Seeing a dental hygienist every six months for a professional clean will also assist in the removal of extrinsic stains.

How can I treat tooth discoloration?

Treatment options for tooth discoloration vary depending on the cause. Ensuring that you regularly brush and floss your teeth is the first step. Avoiding foods and drinks that cause stains is highly recommended. In addition, tooth discoloration can also be treated through the use of over-the-counter whitening products. These products contain a weak bleach formula that is applied to a mouthpiece that sticks to your teeth. Whitening toothpastes can assist in the removal of light stains but do not change the overall colour of your teeth. For a stronger treatment, it is recommended that you visit your dentist who will apply a strong light-activated bleaching agent to your teeth in a professional way. This method results in your teeth becoming significantly whiter in 30 – 45 minutes.

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