In general, the typical shade of healthy teeth is an off-white hue with slight undertones of brown, yellow or grey. However, many people find that their teeth are much darker than off-white. If you’re one of these people, you may be wondering why your teeth aren’t as bright as everyone else’s and what you can do about it.
Browning and yellowing teeth have a variety of possible causes. One of the most well-known is aging, but what about discolouration that happens before you reach your senior years? If you’re an adult with stained teeth, there are two broad categories of tooth discolouration you should look to: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Both can be remedied in different ways, but the right solution will depend on which of these discolouration types is affecting you.
What is Extrinsic Discolouration?
Extrinsic discolouration refers to staining on the outside of your teeth (your enamel) as a result of external means. The most common causes of extrinsic discolouration are smoking and eating certain foods.
Smoking stains teeth when the nicotine and tar in the tobacco permeate the tooth enamel, which is filled with microscopic openings. This leads to a yellow or brown colour that, while not dangerous, isn’t the most attractive.
If you don’t smoke, one of your favourite foods could be the cause of your discoloured tooth surface. Dark coloured drinks (like tea, coffee, wine and cola) along with curry, tomatoes and berries are some of the biggest culprits, seeping through your tooth surface just like nicotine and tar.
Extrinsic discolouration can also be a result of subpar dental hygiene, including failure to brush and floss regularly and efficiently.
What is Intrinsic Discolouration?
The opposite counterpart to extrinsic discolouration is intrinsic discolouration, which happens when the inside of your teeth (your dentin) darkens. This can have a variety of causes, most of which occur during childhood.
Some children are born with conditions that cause dentin discolouration, but many more end up with browning a yellowing from issues like tooth trauma, exposure to certain antibiotics (in utero or at a young age) or overexposure to fluoride during early childhood. Surprisingly, even trauma to your ‘baby’ teeth (known professionally as primary teeth) can cause discolouration to adult teeth that haven’t erupted yet.
How Can You Tell Which One You Have?
If you’ve had discoloured teeth for most of your life, there’s a good chance that your discolouration is intrinsic.
If your teeth got more yellow or brown as you aged or after taking up a habit like coffee-drinking or smoking, extrinsic discolouration is the likely culprit. Extrinsic discolouration can also start after oral trauma or a procedure that made it difficult to brush your teeth well, like getting braces.
If you’re unsure about what’s causing your discolouration, a dentist should be able to diagnose the root cause quickly with an examination.
How Can You Treat Them
Generally, extrinsic discolouration is easier to remedy than intrinsic. One of the easiest ways to remove outer tooth stains is to change your lifestyle by removing the cause of the darkening. This may mean quitting smoking or reducing your coffee intake. Combined with good dental hygiene, this can be enough to brighten your teeth again.
If that doesn’t work, you can visit a dentist for a whitening treatment to lift the stains. If you think your discolouration is caused by poor oral hygiene, your dentist will also be able to help you learn better brushing technique and treat any cavities that may be forming.
Intrinsic yellowing can’t be removed with traditional whitening treatments or good hygiene, but there are still several ways to lighten your smile. If the discolouration was caused by trauma, a dentist may be able to tackle it endodontically. Some people have found improvement with root canal treatments and internal bleaching.
Alternatively, veneers are a great way to cover up the appearance of discoloured teeth. They also work for stubborn extrinsic staining that can’t be removed fully with whitening treatments.
If your teeth are looking far from white, Dental Smile Frankston can help with a variety of treatments, from help with diagnosis to endodontic therapy, whitening procedures, and veneers. Contact us via phone, email or in person to book an appointment.