Types of Tooth Discoloration and Treatments

By J. Brent Gorrell on July 15, 2014

A woman in a hat with a bright, white smileTooth discoloration is a common complaint. In real life or in a selfie, teeth that are yellow, gray, or brown are distracting.  

Most people turn to teeth whitening to brighten teeth, but it’s important to understand that it doesn’t work on all types of discoloration. The first step in tackling any stain is figuring out what caused the discoloration in the first place because that will dictate the optimal treatment method.

Though you may have difficulty determining what caused your tooth discoloration, a cosmetic dentist has the training to identify stains, usually by just looking in your mouth. Dr. J. Brent Gorrell, who offers cosmetic and restorative dentistry in the Mountain View area, understands the various types of tooth discoloration and the best methods for tackling them. 

In general, there are two types of discoloration: Extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic, or Outer, Discoloration

Extrinsic stains are those lodged in the tooth’s outer layer, the enamel.

In general, extrinsic stains tend to worsen over time and usually occur in areas that are hard to clean, such as between teeth. Because these stains are in the outer layer of the tooth, they can usually be removed with a professional cleaning or with cosmetic tooth whitening.

Intrinsic, or Inner, Discoloration

Intrinsic stains affect the interior of the tooth. They generally are present from the time the tooth first appears or occur suddenly, such as from trauma. Interior discoloration can also be caused by medications, infections, or aging.

Not surprisingly, stains lodged inside a tooth are more difficult to treat and the treatment will depend on what caused the problem. For example, if a tooth darkened due to damage in the root, a dentist may be able to bleach the interior of the tooth to whiten it. In most cases, you will need professional help to treat intrinsic stains.

Unfortunately, not all intrinsic stains can be removed. However, even teeth that are permanently stained can be improved. A skilled cosmetic dentist can conceal a discolored tooth with dental bonding or by applying a porcelain veneer.

Causes of Tooth Discoloration

Among the causes of tooth discoloration:  

  • Tobacco use. Smoking or chewing tobacco can stain teeth.
  • Food and Drinks. Deeply colored foods or drinks can discolor teeth over time. Beverages that can stain teeth include red wine, coffee, tea, dark-colored sodas, and deeply colored fruit juices, such as cranberry juice. Foods that can stain include tomato-based products, curries, and dark berries, to name a few.
  • Plaque. A buildup of plaque causes yellow discoloration, particularly near the gum line.
  • Disease and Treatments for Disease. Several diseases can affect the enamel on a tooth or the dentin inside. In addition, medical treatments may affect tooth color, such as head-and-neck radiation treatments or chemotherapy.
  • Age. As we get older, the outer layer of enamel begins to wear away, allowing the yellow-colored dentin inside to be more evident.
  • Trauma. A fall during childhood can disturb the formation of enamel in young children. In adults, trauma can damage the nerve inside the tooth, causing discoloration.

Considering Treatment?

If you have discoloration on your teeth, the first step in treatment is determining what caused the discoloration. After examining your teeth, Dr. Gorrell can advise you on the best methods to whiten your teeth. And, if your tooth is permanently discolored, he can recommend treatments that can hide the discoloration.  

Please contact us for an appointment today.

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I moved out of the area 20 years ago and happily drive 40 miles to still see Dr. Gorrell. Best dentist ever. Kevin B.

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Mountain View Office

809 Cuesta Dr
Ste 205
Mountain View, CA 94040

More Info Directions (650) 967-1441