Most teeth are slightly yellow but the degree of yellowness varies greatly from person to person. This post looks into the causes and treatment of discoloured teeth.
Unfortunately this does not mean your teeth will be as sparkly white as you would like, so what can be done about it?
Well clearly brushing and flossing does help as it removes the plaque that forms in the intervals between each time you brush. Plaque only needs a day or two to harden into tartar, a yellowish substance that stains your teeth and can only be removed by an expensive trip to see a dental hygienist. Plaque can also trap other food particles that will increase the stains on your teeth.
However there are a number of other factors that affect the colouration of our teeth, some we can control and others are out of our hands. Let’s take a look at what’s what.
There are 4 main kinds of tooth discolouration or staining:
- extrinsic discolouration
- intrinsic discolouration
- age related discolouration
- genetic related discolouration
Staining on the outer surface of the teeth is extrinsic discolouration. One of the top culprits is smoking; the other main offenders tend to be the things we most like to eat and drink and include:
- tea and coffee
- red wine and white wine
- some fruits and even some veg
- fizzy drinks and fruit juice
- almost anything with a high sugar content
Now I not suggesting you should never again enjoy a can of coke; and who can resist a few sweets from time to time? You may however, want to check out my post on what to eat and what to avoid. It covers what food stuffs are good for your teeth and what are not so good.
Getting your teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist every six months is certainly recommended; although I fully appreciate this costs both time and money that many can ill afford.
But don’t just leave everything to your dental hygienist to sort out. Get into a good daily routine with regular brushing every morning and night to help keep staining to a minimum.
Treatment for extrinsic stains
Discolouration often can be removed by applying a bleaching agent to the enamel of the teeth. One technique is called “power bleaching.” With this method, the dentist applies a light-activated bleaching gel. It causes the teeth to get significantly whiter in about 30 to 45 minutes. Several follow-up treatments may be needed, or take-home bleaching trays may be provided.
Before you start getting giddy about the prospects of this type of treatment you need to understand that it’s very expensive, generally around the £900 mark.
A rather cheaper method is chair-side whitening, although this still generally costs £200 or more. This method will take a couple of weeks and require multiple trips to your dentist.
After a consultation, your first appointment will involve having a mould of your teeth cast using dental putty. From the mould, a custom made tray is made for you. Once the tray is ready, you’ll go back to the dentist who will perform the whitening process.
You also can buy whitening products over the counter. They contain a weaker bleach than the products you can get from your dentist. The whitening agent is applied as a gel placed in a mouthpiece or as a strip that sticks to your teeth. Over-the-counter mouthpieces fit less securely than the kind you get from your dentist.
Intrinsic stains involve the discolouration of the layer beneath your tooth enamel known as dentin. These stains may cause the tooth to have a yellow or grey appearance and it’s much more of a problem to deal with than the staining on the outer surface (extrinsic) of the teeth.
Causes of intrinsic stains
A variety of factors can cause intrinsic stains.
- you had too much exposure to fluoride during early childhood
- certain diseases and infections in pregnant mothers can affect the development of enamel and the underlying dentin causing tooth discolouration later in the child
- your mother used tetracycline antibiotics or certain other medications during the second half of pregnancy
- you used tetracycline antibiotics or certain other medications when you were 8 years old or younger
- you had trauma such as a fall that damaged your teeth when you were a young child
- you had trauma in a permanent tooth, and internal bleeding discoloured the tooth
- you were born with a rare condition called dentinogenesis imperfecta. This causes grey, amber or purple discolouration
A common cause of intrinsic discolouration is the exposure to excessive fluoride levels. To prevent intrinsic stains in children, avoid too much early exposure to fluorides. Once the enamel is formed, fluoride will not discolour teeth.
Treatment of intrinsic stains
Since intrinsic stains affect the inner layers of your teeth, traditional teeth whitening methods rarely erase discolouration.
Intrinsic stains don’t respond particularly well to teeth whitening and will generally need more extensive and costly treatment such as:
- dental bonding – a procedure in which a tooth-colored resin material (a durable plastic material) is applied and hardened with a special light that bonds the material to the tooth
- dental veneers – a thin layer of porcelain or natural-colour composite is made to fit over the front surface of a tooth
- dental crowning – a crown or cap that fully encases the entire visible portion of a tooth
Causes of age related discolouration
This is a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic discoloration, and it’s what you can expect from years of wear, tear, and exposure to different substances.
Younger people tend to have whiter teeth than older people, it’s just one more thing advancing years have in store for us. Once again it‘s all down to the enamel layer of teeth.
The enamel is made up of millions of microscopic crystalline rods and provides a protective barrier against the forces of chewing and acid attacks. As we get older, micro-cracks develop between the enamel rods and stains from food, smoking and drinking penetrate these cracks. As we age the layer of enamel also becomes thinner as it is simply worn away by general wear and tear, exposing more of the underlying dentin colour.
The ageing process also accounts for the fact that teeth can look more transparent on the tips or biting edges. The biting edges look translucent or almost grey/blue in colour, and again this is simply down to the tooth enamel gradually thinning.
Treatment of age related discolouration
Treating age-related tooth discolouration will sometimes involve multiple treatments in order to address the surface and internal stains of the tooth.
Causes of genetic related discolouration
If most of your family members have yellow teeth, it’s highly likely it is genetic. It isn’t the colour which is genetically transmitted but the thickness of a tooth’s enamel. Enamel is the part of the tooth that covers the outside of teeth, enamel is semi-translucent; meaning you can see light through it.
It’s the dentin underneath the enamel that is mostly responsible for the colour of your teeth. Dentin is yellow/grey so the thinner the enamel layer you have the more of the dentin shows through.
Treatment for genetic related discolouration
As with intrinsic stains, genetically related staining is going to need more complicated dental procedures than are required for outer tooth surface teeth whitening. The options are dental bonding, veneers or crowns which mask over the underlying colour of the teeth.