4 Common Causes of Discolored Teeth

4 Common Causes of Discolored Teeth

Tooth discoloration is a top cosmetic dental concern among people of all ages, and for good reason: No one wants to flash a dull, dingy smile that doesn’t look fresh or healthy. 

You may think of tooth discoloration as the result of inadequate dental hygiene habits or enamel-staining foods and beverages, but those factors don’t tell the whole story. It can actually occur for a variety of different reasons, each of which requires its own specific treatment approach. 

This range of treatments means that most cases of tooth discoloration can be addressed successfully and prevented in the future. With a thorough dental exam, our team of cosmetic dentists at Smiles in Springfield can determine the type of discoloration you’re dealing with, and in most cases, offer solutions to correct or reverse it. 

Explore the three basic types and four most common causes of tooth discoloration, and learn which treatment options can help with each. 

Three basic types of tooth discoloration

All cases of tooth discoloration fall into one of the following categories: 

Extrinsic staining

This type of discoloration occurs when stain molecules permeate the minute indentations of your enamel and soil the surface of your teeth. It can make your teeth look yellow or brown.

Intrinsic discoloration

This form of discoloration occurs when a tooth’s inner dentin layer becomes darker. Instead of appearing yellow or brown, intrinsic discoloration makes your teeth look grayer than normal.

Age-related changes

Your teeth change intrinsically and extrinsically with age: Enamel becomes thinner as the underlying dentin layer grows thicker, causing many people to experience yellowing teeth as they get older. 

Common causes of tooth discoloration

There are many reasons why your teeth might darken or become discolored. Some may be out of your control or due to an underlying problem, while others are readily preventable or purely cosmetic. The four most common causes of tooth discoloration are: 

1. Stain molecule buildup

Regular contact with stain molecules is a leading cause of dull, discolored smiles. Common tooth-staining culprits include berries, red wine, tea, coffee, and dark sodas. Chocolate, curry, balsamic vinegar, and barbecue sauce can stain enamel too. 

Not all stain molecules come from your diet, however; the tar and nicotine in cigarettes and chewing tobacco products can also damage and discolor your enamel. 

2. Poor dental hygiene 

It’s no surprise that insufficient brushing and flossing — and skipping professional cleanings — is another top cause of dingy teeth. Besides allowing stain molecules to accumulate more quickly, poor dental hygiene also promotes the buildup of enamel-yellowing plaque and tartar.

Even in the absence of stain molecules, subpar brushing and flossing gives the starches and sugars in your diet more time to attack your enamel, creating new microscopic channels that trap discoloring residues more easily.  

3. Certain medications

Taking certain medications can darken and discolor your teeth intrinsically. Allergy-treating antihistamines and hypertension (high blood pressure) medications are associated with tooth discoloration, as are medications that treat psychosis. 

When given to developing children, antibiotics like tetracycline and doxycycline can affect the enamel formation of unerupted permanent teeth and cause irreversible discoloration.  

4. Tooth injury and trauma

Any dental injury that causes serious trauma to a tooth can leave it permanently discolored. When your tooth is hurt by an external force such as an accidental fall, it may cause bleeding within the tooth’s pulpy inner chamber or the death of a nerve root, either of which can lead to intrinsic discoloration. 

Dental injuries can also affect unerupted permanent teeth in young children. By interfering with the enamel formation of still-developing adult teeth, these early mouth injuries can cause teeth to appear discolored from the moment they emerge.  

Tooth discoloration treatment options 

If your pearly whites are no longer as white as they used to be, our team can help. But before we can develop an effective treatment plan for your tooth discoloration problem, we need to establish its probable cause (or causes).  

For tooth discoloration that is mostly extrinsic in nature, your treatment plan for a whiter, brighter smile may include one or more of the following:

If your tooth discoloration is primarily an intrinsic problem, you may be a suitable candidate for one of the concealing offerings of cosmetic dentistry, such as:

If you’re ready for a whiter, brighter smile, we have solutions. Call 703-634-4239 to schedule an appointment with one of the skilled dentists in our Springfield, Virginia, office today. 

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