Tooth discoloration is when the color of your teeth changes. They might appear yellowed or less bright, or they may develop white or dark flecks. Causes include tobacco use, dental trauma, poor oral hygiene and certain foods, drinks and medications.
Tooth discoloration refers to the staining or darkening of your teeth. You can develop discolored teeth for a number of reasons. Some causes are unavoidable — like aging, trauma or disease. Other causes are preventable — like smoking and poor oral hygiene.
There are two main types of tooth discoloration:
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Several things can cause discolored teeth. Some causes are avoidable. Others are unavoidable. Avoidable tooth discoloration causes include:
Unavoidable tooth discoloration causes include:
Sometimes the color of tooth stains can pinpoint the culprit:
Dentists use different tooth discoloration treatments depending on the underlying cause and whether the stains affect the outer or inner layers of your teeth.
Dentists may offer in-office or at-home professional teeth whitening treatments. These methods use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide to break up stains and lift them from your teeth. Professional whitening works best on surface (extrinsic) stains. But some whitening products can remove deep dental (intrinsic) stains, too.
In-office bleaching takes about one hour to complete. Most take-home whitening treatments require 30- to 60-minute daily treatments for up to six weeks. There are pros and cons to each. Ask your dentist which option is right for you.
If you have deep tooth discoloration that doesn’t improve with whitening, your dentist may recommend dental bonding. This procedure involves applying tooth-colored composite resin to conceal discolored teeth.
Bonding is much more affordable compared to other options (like porcelain veneers), but you’ll probably need touch-ups every five to seven years. Dental bonding might not be the best option if you have several discolored teeth.
If you have widespread tooth discoloration that doesn’t improve with whitening, you may want to consider porcelain veneers. These tooth-colored ceramic shells are thin, yet strong. A dentist permanently bonds (glues) them to the front surfaces of your teeth to camouflage discoloration or other cosmetic flaws like chipping or misshapen teeth.
A dentist has to replace porcelain veneers every five to 15 years. Veneers aren’t reversible.
Sometimes tooth discoloration is a symptom of cavities. If you have weakened or decayed teeth in addition to discoloration, your dentist may recommend dental crowns.
A crown is a tooth-shaped cap that fits over your tooth, protecting it from further damage. Dental crowns help improve the health and function of your teeth as well as their appearance.
You can find over-the-counter (OTC) teeth whitening treatments in any oral health aisle. These products include rinses, pastes, strips and do-it-yourself bleaching trays.
While some over-the-counter products are safe and effective, others can damage your enamel and make your teeth more vulnerable to cavities and erosion. That’s why it’s important to talk to your dentist before making a purchase.
In general, ingredients to avoid include:
When shopping for teeth whitening products, look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance. This means that experts have tested the safety and effectiveness of these products and deemed them safe for use.
While you can’t prevent deep dental stains due to trauma, medications or health conditions, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of everyday surface discoloration:
In many cases, tooth discoloration is strictly a cosmetic concern. You may not need to do anything from an oral health standpoint. But if discolored teeth cause you to feel self-conscious about your appearance, cosmetic dentistry treatments can help.
However, if you have other symptoms in combination with tooth discoloration — such as pain, bad breath, bleeding gums or holes in your teeth — schedule an appointment with a dentist right away. Treating these issues early on can help you avoid more serious oral health conditions in the future.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Tooth color varies widely from person to person. Just because your teeth are a different color than someone else’s doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. But if you have discoloration that bothers you or makes you feel self-conscious, a dentist can help you find ways to brighten your smile.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/24/2023.
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