There are several reasons why teeth may darken. These include:
- Foods/drinks: Coffee, tea, colas, wines, and certain fruits and vegetables
- Tobacco use: Smoking or chewing tobacco can stain teeth.
- Poor dental hygiene: Inadequate brushing and flossing to remove plaque and stain-producing substances like coffee and tobacco can cause tooth discoloration.
- Disease: Several diseases that affect enamel (the hard surface of the teeth) and dentin (the underlying material under enamel) formation can lead to tooth discoloration. In addition, treatments for certain conditions can also affect tooth color. For example, head and neck radiation and chemotherapy can cause teeth discoloration. In addition, certain infections in pregnant mothers can cause tooth discoloration in the infant by affecting enamel development.
- Medications: The antibiotics tetracycline and doxycycline are known to discolor teeth when given to children whose teeth are still developing (before the age of 8). Mouth rinses and washes containing chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium chloride can also stain your teeth. Antihistamines (like Benadryl®), antipsychotic drugs, and antihypertensive medications can also cause teeth discoloration.
- Dental materials: Some of the materials used in dentistry, such as amalgam restorations, especially silver sulfide-containing materials, can cast a gray-black color to your teeth.
- Advancing age: As you age, the outer layer of enamel on your teeth gets worn away revealing the natural yellow color of dentin. Also with aging, the tooth lays down more dentin, which decreases the size of the pulp. This reduces the translucency of the tooth, which makes for a darker appearance.
- Genetics: Some people have naturally brighter or thicker enamel than others.
- Environment: Excessive fluoride either from environmental sources (naturally high fluoride levels in water) or from excessive use (fluoride applications, rinses, toothpaste, and fluoride supplements taken by mouth) can cause teeth discoloration.
- Trauma: For example, damage from a fall can disturb enamel formation in young children whose teeth are still developing. Trauma can also cause discoloration to adult teeth.
How can I prevent teeth discoloration?
By making a few simple lifestyle changes, you may be able to prevent teeth discoloration. For example, if you are a coffee drinker and/or smoker, consider cutting back or quitting all together. Also, improve your dental hygiene by brushing and flossing regularly and getting your teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist every 6 months.
If your teeth appear to be an abnormal color without ready explanation, the abnormal tooth color lasts despite following good oral hygiene practices, and if other symptoms are also present, makes an appointment to see your dentist.
What treatment options are available to whiten teeth?
Treatment options can vary depending on the cause of the discoloration and may include:
- Using proper tooth brushing and flossing techniques
- Avoiding foods and beverages that cause stains
- Undergoing a dental bonding procedure. (Dental bonding is a procedure in which a tooth-colored material is applied to a tooth and hardened with a special light. The light ultimately ‘bonds’ the material to the tooth to improve a person’s smile, including the appearance of discolored teeth)
- Applying veneers (dental veneers are custom-made ‘shells’ of materials designed to cover the front surface of the tooth to improve a person’s smile, including the appearance of discolored teeth)
- Using over-the-counter whitening agents
- Seeing a dental professional who uses professional whitening products and procedures
- Teeth Whitening. American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. www.aacd.com. Accessed 9/2012
- Tooth Whitening Systems. American Dental Hygienists' Association. www.adha.org. Accessed 9/2012
- Common Oral Conditions in Older Persons. American Family Physician. www.aafp.org. Accessed 9/2012
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