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Different Types of Tooth Discoloration

A beautiful, bright smile is generally accepted as a sign of youth, health, and good oral care habits, which is why it’s so upsetting when you start to notice tooth discoloration. The good news is that there are a number of potential treatment options to brighten and whiten teeth, but you first need to understand what causes tooth discoloration. Here are a few different types of tooth discoloration and what you can do to combat them.


As noted above, bright, white teeth are a hallmark of youth, so it should come as no surprise that discoloration is a natural part of the aging process. The dentin inside teeth yellows with time, and the hard, outer layer of enamel that protects our teeth also thins. Both of these factors can cause teeth to take on a yellow cast.


You are probably aware of the fact that the foods and beverages you consume can affect your oral health and this includes staining the enamel of your teeth. This is what’s known as extrinsic discoloration and it is caused by chemicals, compounds, and staining agents in the items you consume.

Beverages like coffee, tea, and wine are common culprits, as are food dyes found in soda and many other foods and beverages. The use of tobacco products (smoking, chewing, etc.) can cause extrinsic staining, as well.


Unlike extrinsic discoloration, intrinsic staining occurs when the inner dentin of the tooth is stained, and it can be linked to a number of causes, including the use of medications like tetracycline, overexposure to fluoride as a child, trauma that causes internal bleeding or permanent damage of a tooth, and medical conditions like dentinogenesis imperfecta.


Tooth discoloration can range from the standard yellow of aging dentin, to brown streaks or spots caused by food stains, to white, yellow, brown, gray, or even purple discoloration related to various intrinsic causes. How can these stains be treated? Not all of them can.

Surface stains may be treated by simply changing dietary and oral health habits. Sometimes using a whitening toothpaste and giving up coffee and cigarettes could help immensely. Another option is professional tooth whitening (or bleaching), and this can show incredible results for many types of extrinsic, intrinsic, and age-related stains.

Unfortunately, staining caused by medications, medical conditions, and trauma to teeth is very difficult to treat and will most likely need to be hidden. You should speak with a professional about options, which could include the use of bonding materials or the application of veneers.