Why All Tooth Stains Are Not the Same


It seems that special occasions bring out the photographer in all of us – shooting photos with phones and cameras at every turn. Add to that the posting of smiling images on websites, social media, and greeting cards. In my Capitol Hill dental office, I hear from patients who avoid those photos because they are embarrassed about their stained or discolored teeth. 

What causes teeth to become stained and discolored?

Not all tooth stains are the same. There are various causes of tooth discoloration or staining. Certain foods, beverages, and medications may discolor teeth. Smoking and plaque may also cause staining. Some discolorations are the result of genetics or disease. Different types of stains require different treatments. Here’s why:

Tooth stains can be divided into two distinct categories:

  1. Extrinsic stains target the tooth enamel which is the outer layer of the tooth. These are surface stains. Acidic or intensely colored foods and beverages such as red wine, tea, berries, cola, and sports drinks are prime culprits. Smoking and inadequate brushing and flossing to remove plaque can also cause discoloration and tooth stains.
  2. Intrinsic stains are found on the dentin or hard layer under the enamel. These stains are part of the tooth structure, where the dentin darkens, resulting in a yellow, brown or gray tint to the tooth. A common cause is the use of a medication such as tetracycline.

Different treatments for different types of tooth stain?

Most extrinsic stains can be removed by one of the teeth whitening systems available. A professional teeth whitening system available only from your dentist – as opposed to over-the-counter brands – is an effective and economical treatment. Also known as dental bleaching, it restores or brightens the natural tooth color. The process typically involves applying a bleaching agent to the teeth to break down stains that are bonded to the tooth enamel. Some whitening treatments use a particular light to accelerate the process.

Some intrinsic stains can be effectively treated with long-term bleaching. However, if the staining is too severe for the bleaching process, there are two attractive options for covering the stains.

  • Bonding is the application of composite resin to the teeth, which makes them look whiter and, if needed, straighter.
  • Porcelain veneers can be laminated to the surface of the teeth, also improving their color and shape. The veneers are longer lasting than composite resin because porcelain does not stain as easily.

You don’t have to spend another special occasion hiding from the camera. Consult your dentist to determine which of the treatment options are right for your discolored or stained teeth. Your dentist knows your oral health and can make recommendations that will allow you to get the best results in a time frame that works for you.

Remember, healthy teeth make a healthy smile!

Dr. Nishan Halim


Nishan Halim, DMD specializes in  restorative and cosmetic dentistry, as well as preventive dentistry in his Capitol Hill, Washington DC neighborhood dental center. Dr. Halim recommends GLO Tooth Whitening Systems for his patients – offering a variety of options to fit your budget AND your lifestyle!  Dr. Halim currently provides in-office treatment accompanied by at-home additional treatment OR exclusively at-home treatment. Contact Dr. Halim to schedule an appointment to discuss your oral health needs.

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