Is your smile perfectly white? Are a few of your teeth a little stained? Are you self-conscious of your smile because of stained teeth? Do you worry that your stained teeth may be unhealthy? Do you brush and floss frequently but can’t get stains off of your teeth?
Relax. In today’s post, I’ll talk to you about the causes of stained teeth and help you understand what you can do to minimize staining on your teeth and help you understand the health effects of stained teeth.
Keep reading to find out more!
Are Teeth Really That White?
If you were to believe the covers of celebrity magazines in the grocery store checkout line, you’d think everyone’s teeth are dazzlingly (almost blindingly) white.
Those celebrity pictures don’t reflect reality. Celebrities not only have their teeth professionally whitened (often using some extreme bleaching products), or capped with veneers or crowns, but magazine covers are digitally edited, making teeth seem even whiter than they really are.
The average person’s teeth just aren’t that white. Many people’s teeth, depending on their age, their lifestyle, and other factors may be slightly stained, often a light yellow, orange or brown color.
That’s the reality of our teeth.
Types of Teeth Stains
There are two main types of tooth stains: extrinsic stains and intrinsic stains.
Extrinsic stains are stains on the outer surface of your teeth. Intrinsic stains are caused by changes within the inner layers of your teeth. Extrinsic and intrinsic stains have different causes, different effects, and different treatments.
What Causes Stained Teeth?
The most common causes of stained teeth are the foods we eat, the beverages we drink, smoking cigarettes, using chewing tobacco, poor dental hygiene, and genetics and the natural aging process.
Food & Drink
Coffee, tea, red wine, and strongly pigmented foods can cause extrinsic stains to the surface of your teeth. The more frequently you consume these foods and beverages and the longer you wait to brush after consuming them, the more pronounced these stains can become.
Additionally, acidic and sugary foods and drinks, like sodas and fruit juices, can contribute to tooth stains by damaging the enamel on your teeth, allowing additional stains to take hold. Processed foods that use synthetic food colorings can also stain your teeth!
Cigarettes & Chewing Tobacco
If you regularly smoke cigarettes or use chewing tobacco, stained teeth are among the least of your health worries. Tobacco products are known to cause cancer, emphysema, and other deadly diseases.
But cigarettes and chewing tobacco also stain your teeth an unattractive brown or yellow. Even if you’ve quit using tobacco products, these stains can remain for years. If you haven’t quit yet, the state of Oregon offers some great resources, free of charge.
Poor Dental Hygiene
Built-up plaque caused by infrequent (or improper) brushing and flossing can also cause brown and yellow stains to form on your teeth. These stains can be very pronounced, especially if you don’t visit the dentist regularly to have built-up plaque removed.
Genetics & Natural Aging
Everyone’s different, and genetics contribute heavily to intrinsic tooth stains. As we get older, the outer layer of white enamel on our teeth can become thinner and more transparent. This can allow the yellow dentin inside our teeth to show through, giving the appearance of yellow stains.
Your genetics contribute to how fast your enamel wears away and becomes transparent. This isn’t something you can control.
Are Stained Teeth Healthy?
As you can see from the different causes of stained teeth, there’s no easy answer to this question. It’s really only one that your dentist can answer.
Healthy teeth can be stained and unhealthy teeth can be white. There’s simply no way to make a generalization about the health of your teeth based on their color.
That said, certain stains can indicate that there may be an underlying health problem you should be concerned about. Your teeth can reflect the overall state of your health and you should pay close attention to any stains that form on your teeth. But again, only a dentist can help you understand if your teeth really are healthy.
While rare, teeth with green stains can indicate serious health problems, especially in children. Greenish stains can be caused by exposure to toxic metals like copper and nickel. They may also be caused by some types of bacteria and fungus.
Either way, if you have teeth that are a little green, it’s a good idea to ask your dentist.
Orange stains are caused by bacteria and are most common in younger children, especially those who aren’t brushing properly or thoroughly enough. If you notice your child has orange stains on his or her teeth, talk to your dentist to make sure your child knows how to brush properly.
Avoiding Tooth Stains
Extrinsic stains, like those caused by foods, beverages, and tobacco use can be limited by simply avoiding those products. This is especially true for tobacco. There simply is no healthy way to smoke cigarettes or use chewing tobacco. The sooner you remove these products from your lifestyle, the healthier you’ll be.
Minimize Coffee and Tea Stains
If you do enjoy black tea or coffee consider drinking them through a straw. This will keep the liquids away from your front teeth and minimize stains to the teeth in your smile!
Consider switching to green tea instead of black. Black tea is very acidic and contains compounds known as tannins, which can cause more tooth staining than black coffee!
Drink Less Soda & Juice
Soda and fruit juices are sugary and acidic, a combination that can lead to many health problems, including stained teeth. The less often you drink these beverages, the better.
Brush or Rinse Frequently
This will help to wash away some of the acids and compounds that contribute to tooth stains.
Visit the Dentist Often
Regular visits to the dentist will help you minimize the buildup of stain-causing plaque. A thorough cleaning at the dentist’s office can also help remove stains from the tiny cracks in your tooth enamel that you can’t clean with just a toothbrush.
Tooth Whitening Services
At my practice, I help my patients understand the possible causes of stained teeth. And I help them understand whether the stains are indicative of unhealthy teeth, other health problems, or whether they’re nothing to worry about.
But if my patients are self-conscious about their dark smile, I do offer numerous whitening options to help you achieve the smile of your dreams! From in-office tooth whitening services to minimally-invasive veneers, or even orthodontic treatment to straighten crooked teeth, any of these options can make teeth look much whiter!
If stained teeth are keeping you from smiling or are causing stress in your life, get in touch with me. Even if your stained teeth are healthy, if a whiter smile makes you happier, I would love to help you!
Dr. Blodgett completed his pre-doctoral sciences at Portland State University and graduated from the Oregon Health Science University School of Dentistry in 1999. As a modern pioneer in progressive dental care, Dr. Blodgett has become a leader in minimally-invasive dentistry, dental lasers, computerized dental technology, and holistic care. He is widely recognized for the innovative care he provides and is dedicated to helping his patients optimize their whole body health.