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Teeth Discolouration and Stains: What’s the Difference

Tooth discolouration and stains are common dental problems that can dull your smile, making it look less vibrant. However, it’s important to understand that discolouration is internal and stains are external. Both require a different approach to help remove them from your teeth and regain your smile’s appearance. If you’ve been struggling with discoloured or stained teeth and can’t find a solution, we’re here to help you get your smile back! Read on to learn the difference between discoloured and stained teeth, exploring the causes, prevention and treatment for both.

What is Tooth Discolouration?

Teeth discolouration refers to the overall change in the natural colour of your teeth, where alterations in the inner structure of the tooth, specifically the dentin, lead to a visible difference in colour. This darkens your tooth colour, making it look yellow. Teeth discolouration is usually intrinsic and is difficult to remove. Your dentist can help guide you on the best way to manage it.

Causes of Tooth Discolouration

Some of the causes of tooth discolouration include:

Dental Trauma

Your tooth comprises the outer layer(enamel), inner layer(dentin) and the pulp where the blood and vessels are located. Injuries like falls or accidents can damage the tooth pulp, leading to bleeding and inflammation. Blood from the pulp can leak into the tooth enamel and dentin, making it appear discoloured. The severity of the discoloration can vary depending on the extent of the trauma, age and dental health. In some cases, the discolouration may be temporary and fade over time, while in more severe cases, the tooth may require professional treatment, such as a root canal or dental veneer, to restore its appearance.

Certain Medications

Some medicines, especially antibiotics, can affect the natural colour of teeth, specifically during tooth development. This happens because these medicines contain compounds that have a strong affinity for the minerals found in teeth. When these compounds attach to the teeth, they can alter their colour. This discolouration is usually seen as yellow, brown, or grey stains on the teeth. The amount and severity of discolouration can vary depending on the type of medicine, dosage, and duration of treatment.

Excessive Fluoride Exposure

Excessive fluoride intake can cause discolouration in teeth by a process called fluorosis. Fluorosis occurs during the development of teeth when the enamel is forming. Fluoride is essential for maintaining strong teeth and preventing tooth decay. However, when too much fluoride is consumed for a prolonged period, it can lead to an overexposure of fluoride in the body. Fluorosis is characterised by white patches, brown stains, or discolouration ranging from mild to severe.

What are Tooth Stains?

Tooth stains are spots or localised discolourations on the teeth, which can make them look yellow, brown, or grey. Unlike overall discolouration, which affects the entire tooth, stains are often caused by external agents interacting with the tooth enamel. They are usually extrinsic and cover the surface of the tooth.

Causes of Teeth Staining

Some of the most common causes of tooth stains include:

Dietary Habits

Food and beverages are a common cause of teeth staining and discolouration. Certain foods and drinks contain chromogens, pigment molecules that can adhere to the tooth enamel and cause stains. Coffee, tea, red wine, and dark-coloured fruits like blueberries and pomegranates are among the most notorious culprits of tooth staining. These foods and drinks can leave stubborn stains on the teeth that may be difficult to remove with regular brushing and flossing. Additionally, acidic foods and beverages like citrus fruits, soda, and sports drinks can erode tooth enamel, making it easier for stains to penetrate.

Smoking & Tobacco Use

The nicotine and tar in tobacco products can penetrate and stain the porous enamel of the teeth. Over time, the discolouration can become more pronounced and difficult to remove with regular brushing. Tobacco use can also lead to gum disease, which can cause the gums to recede and expose the darker roots of the teeth, further contributing to the staining. Additionally, smoking can reduce saliva production, which is essential for neutralising acids in the mouth and washing away food particles, leading to a buildup of plaque and tartar.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Poor oral hygiene is one of the most common causes of teeth staining. When you don’t brush and floss regularly, food particles and plaque can build up on the teeth. Over time, this buildup can harden into tartar, which can be challenging to remove with regular brushing alone. Tartar can cause yellow or brown stains on the teeth, especially near the gum line.

Ageing & Wear

As we age, our teeth naturally become more susceptible to staining. This is due to various factors, including the thinning of the enamel layer, which exposes the more porous dentin underneath. Additionally, our teeth accumulate microscopic cracks and chips over time, which can trap food particles and bacteria and cause discolouration. Furthermore, as we age, our teeth become yellow or grey as the dentin layer naturally darkens with time.

Preventing Tooth Discolouration and Stains

Tooth stains and discolouration from external factors are usually inevitable because of daily consumption and wear. This can be managed with good oral hygiene and preventive dental care. Daily brushing and flossing and using an antibacterial mouthwash help keep your teeth healthy and white. Routine dental checkups and cleaning take care of the more stubborn plaque or tartar buildup, allowing your dentists to detect potential problems for timely treatment.  Avoiding teeth-staining foods and drinks and smoking also help your teeth retain their shine. If you play sports, invest in a custom sports mouthguard to protect you from dental trauma and reduce the risk of injuries and tooth damage.

Dental Treatments for Stains and Discolouration

Professional teeth whitening treatments offer visible and lasting results for stubborn stains or overall discolouration. They include:

In-Chair Teeth Whitening

In-office teeth whitening involves using a bleaching agent to remove stains and discolouration from the teeth. A bleaching agent, usually hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, is applied to the teeth and activated using a special light or laser. The bleaching agent works by penetrating the enamel of the teeth and breaking down the stains and discolouration. After the treatment, the teeth are rinsed, and a fluoride treatment may be applied to help reduce sensitivity. The results of in-office teeth whitening can be dramatic, with teeth appearing several shades lighter.

RELATED: 7 Things You Need to Know Before Teeth Whitening | Blue Gum Dental

Take Home Teeth Whitening

Take-home teeth whitening kits provide a flexible and convenient solution for whitening your teeth. It involves creating custom-made teeth whitening trays with a whitening gel mixed by your dentist. These kits must be worn on alternative days or daily as advised by your dentist. They gradually lighten your teeth until you get your desired shade. Suitable for sensitive teeth, this is a gentler option than in-chair teeth whitening.

Also Read: Benefits of Take-Home Teeth Whitening Treatments

Professional teeth whitening can help remove most external stains and improve overall aesthetic. However, these treatments cannot change the colour of your teeth. They only lighten the shade, removing stubborn extrinsic stains. For optimal results, it’s recommended to get dental cleaning done before to remove plaque and tartar buildup. This helps provide a smoother surface and removes debris and food particles, providing a smoother surface for the treatment.

The degree of whitening achieved depends on the severity of the stains and discolouration. It is essential to follow your dentist’s instructions for post-treatment care and maintain good oral hygiene practices to ensure the longevity of the results.

Retain a Healthy and Vibrant Smile!

At Blue Gum Dental, we are dedicated to delivering quality dental care tailored to your dental and lifestyle needs. We understand each smile is unique and requires personalised attention. Our friendly dentists work with you, listening to your needs and understanding your concerns to ensure the optimal balance of health and aesthetics. Whether you want straighter and whiter teeth or general dental services to protect your teeth and gums, we’re always here with bespoke advice and gentle support. So, contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards achieving a healthier and more radiant smile.

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