1. Extrinsic – This type of discoloration takes place when the enamel (outer layer of the tooth) is stained; cola, wine, coffee or other beverages or foods can discolor teeth, as can smoking, which has been known to cause extrinsic stains.
2. Intrinsic – This type of discoloration takes place when the dentin (inner structure of the tooth) darkens or appears with a yellow tint; this type of discoloration can be caused by excessive exposure to fluoride during early adolescence, a mother using tetracycline antibiotics during the second half of pregnancy, a patient him or herself using tetracycline antibiotics when they were eight years of age or younger, a patient experiencing a trauma that affected a tooth when they were a young child (such as a fall, for example), a damage to a developing permanent tooth or a trauma to a permanent tooth that caused internal bleeding and discoloration.
3. Age-Related – This is a fusion occurrence involving intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and begins with understanding that over time, dentin tends to yellow naturally. As the years pass and we age, the enamel that covers the teeth gets thinner, which allows the dentin to reveal itself; foods and smoking can also stain teeth as we get older, while chips to teeth and other injuries can discolor them, especially when damage to the pulp has occurred.
While no special tests are required, a dental professional can diagnose tooth discoloration simply by examining your teeth – symptoms, quite predictably, include enamel staining that can run the proverbial gamut from white streaks to yellow tints or pits and brown spots. If the enamel has exposed dentin from wearing away, it is indeed probable that you will notice a yellow tint. In a general sense – and we’ll get deeper into this as we go on – discoloration of teeth can be removed with a professional cleaning, with a good example being stains caused by coffee (which dentists see most commonly). And while many stains are permanent, teeth can sometimes be whitened with a bleaching gel. In some severe cases, a veneer or crown may be required to conceal it.
Tooth Stain Prevention
We know you’ve heard it a hundred times before, but it’s seriously worth re-mentioning: To help prevent staining, you should brush your teeth after every meal. In fact, dental professionals recommend the mouth to be rinsed with water after consuming coffee, wine or other liquids or solids (foods) that can stain your teeth. As always, visiting a dental hygienist who performs regular cleanings will also contribute to removing surface stains. Intrinsic stains caused by nerve or blood vessel damage to a tooth can sometimes be prevented; you may find yourself needing root canal treatment to remove the inner part of the tooth (pulp) before it has a chance to darken and decay, but teeth that have experienced root canal treatment may darken at any rate.
When it comes to your children, preventing intrinsic stains means avoiding too much early exposure to fluorides. Once enamel forms, fluoride will not discolor teeth.
Tooth discoloration is primarily a cosmetic problem, so you should definitely make an appointment with your trusted dental professional if you find yourself unhappy with the way your teeth look. Likewise, any change in a child’s normal tooth color should be evaluated by a dentist.
Let’s take a deeper look into treatment methods – both at-home and in-office – when it comes to how to whiten teeth…
At-Home Procedures to Whiten Teeth
You can turn your grin into a dazzler quickly and easily with these expert lip tips and teeth whitening products and treatments. To begin with, let’s talk about smiling – when we feel good, we smile…but this can also make us feel self-conscious if our teeth are less-than-white or our lips are lined or cracked. Strips, trays, toothpastes…what really works? Here, we’re going to reveal our favorite suggestions along with advice on who should see a dentist prior to considering the DIY approach.
At-home whitening is a good option for anyone with a healthy mouth and who has been to the dentist in the past year. Conversely, three groups in particular shouldn’t be looking at doing their own whitening: Those whose teeth are painfully sensitive to cold, anyone with crowns or fillings on their front teeth (they will not whiten successfully and will end up looking much darker than surrounding teeth) and people whose enamel seems more gray than yellow (due to the aforementioned intrinsic stains from antibiotics like tetracycline taken during childhood).
Peroxide is the key ingredient in most whiteners, and this safe-for-the-mouth bleaching agent forms bubbles on enamel that lift away stains. The higher the concentration of peroxide and the longer it’s left on the teeth, the whiter they’ll get; the downside, or flip side of the coin, is that bleaching molecules can get trapped in nerve passageways, leading to increased (though temporary) tooth sensitivity.
According to most dental professionals, custom molded trays remain the most effective at-home choice for dramatic whitening results. These “barrier method” whiteners keep the whitening solution adhered to the teeth for the longest possible time, and using them daily can result in whiter teeth in as many as five or more shades.
Paint-on whiteners, meanwhile, let you target the peroxide solution to specific teeth and spot-treat discolored chips and cracks on the enamel. Further, the Good Housekeeping Research Institute compared the performance of three paint-on teeth whiteners to a leading over-the-counter whitener and concluded that for those with sensitive teeth, the paint-on whiteners were the better choice; testers used the products for either one or two weeks and adhered to the packaging specifications. The GoSmile Advanced Formula ($89 at Sephora) was given the highest marks for its simplicity and, in most cases, the way in which it caused the least sensitivity.
In-Office Dental Procedures to Whiten Teeth
Professional in-office teeth whitening remains the most popular cosmetic dental procedure currently employed in the world today. Unlike the home-use whitening systems we just covered which encompass bleaching agents in low doses, in-office whitening – also known as chairside whitening, power whitening or power bleaching – occurs under conditions that are carefully monitored as to enable safe, controlled, pain-free use of a relatively high concentration of bleaching gel. This yields results that are visible immediately.
When the in-office procedure begins, the patient’s teeth are normally given a prophylactic cleaning in order to clear away plaque and debris that has collected on the surface and between the teeth. From there, a dental exam will be performed, often in conjunction with the aforementioned cleaning, to check for potential problems such as severe tooth decay, gum disease and cracks. While details may sometimes vary from one dental professional to another, a fairly standard routine is then followed, starting with a cheek retractor being inserted into the mouth to expose all the “esthetic zone” teeth (or those that are visible when you smile).
– A hardening resin or liquid rubber dam is painted onto the tissue of the gum to protect against irritation caused by the bleaching gel.
– A bleaching gel comprised of hydrogen peroxide is applied to the teeth in the esthetic zone and remains in place for approximately 15 to 30 minutes.
– The bleaching gel is washed or suctioned off, while new gel is applied for one or more additional treatment periods of 15 to 30 minutes.
– Some whitening treatments may be incorporated to activate or enhance the bleaching process.
– The teeth are checked, between gel applications, to determine how well they have whitened and whether more applications are needed.
– Cheek retractors are removed after the final gel application, and the patient rinses while the immediate post-treatment shade change is measured; the teeth may whiten by as few as two to three shades or as many as eight (out of a total of 16).