picture of beautiful woman pointing to teeth

The color of your teeth is related to a variety of factors. Genetics is one reason your teeth are the shade they are, but there are other contributors to color. Discoloration may be caused by stains on the surface or by changes inside the tooth.

Three Types of Tooth Discoloration

  • Extrinsic — These are stains on the outer enamel of teeth from the oral intake of staining agents such as smoking or drinking wine, coffee or soda.
  • Intrinsic — This is when the inner structure of the tooth (the dentin) becomes exposed or darkens. You can get this type of discoloration from:
    • Overexposure to fluoride during early childhood.
    • Trauma to your permanent or baby teeth.
    • Exposure to tetracycline antibiotics while your mother was pregnant with you or as a child before age 8 years old.
    • A rare condition called dentinogenesis imperfecta that causes discoloration.
  • Age-Related — Over the years tooth enamel becomes worn and allows the yellow color of dentin (core material of teeth) to show through. Routine chewing, grinding and gnashing causes millions of micro-cracks in enamel that can fill up with debris and hold stains causing a dullness in teeth over time.

Treatment Options

Whether you consider professional whitening for best results in the shortest amount of time or a slower over the counter method to save money, there are a myriad of options to whiten dull and discolored teeth. The FDA has differentiated “whitening” products as removing dirt and debris to restore a tooth’s natural color while “bleaching” refers to products that contain actual bleach and can whiten teeth beyond natural color.

At Home Methods

  • Whitening Toothpastes: These may remove minor stains, but they do not actually change the overall color of your teeth.
  • Whitening Products Over the Counter: These whiteners are weaker than the products you can get from your dentist. The whitening agent is applied as a gel placed in a mouthpiece or as a strip that sticks to your teeth. Over-the-counter mouthpieces fit less securely than the kind you get from your dentist, but they will lighten your teeth over time.

Professional Whitening

  • Power Bleaching: A procedure using carbamide or hydrogen peroxide gel that can be applied in-office or by the patient. Some in-office treatments utilize whitening light and show improved color in as little as 35-45 minutes.
  • Dentist Grade Whitening Trays: You will use a stronger, concentrated bleaching gel and a mouth guard given to you by your dentist.
  • Composite Bonding Materials: A tooth can be covered by a dentist with bonding materials to match color.
  • Veneers: These are thin ceramic shells that cover the outer surfaces of the teeth to cover cosmetic imperfections and match color.

Give the care team at Dental South a call if you are interested in finding out more about your options to brighten your smile.

Source: Colgate, Food and Drug Administration (FDA)