In the realm of teeth whitening, all stains are NOT created equal. And in the quest to achieve that Instagram-ready smile, it's crucial to know what kind of stains you're up against.
EXTRINSIC vs INTRINSIC
The two main categories of stains are extrinsic and intrinsic. The first type of stains we'll discuss are Extrinsic.
Extrinsic stains are those that appear on the surface of the teeth as a result of exposure to dark-colored beverages, foods, and tobacco, and routine wear and tear.
America's love affair with coffee easily makes this the most common type of extrinsic tooth stain. Coffee contains a substance called Tannins which penetrate the enamel pores and result in deep stains. Additionally, coffee is acidic and wears enamel over time. Coffee stains can be improved significantly with a professional whitening session however afterwards it's crucial to use a daily remineralizer to help replenish surface enamel and prevent re-staining. (Because if we said to quit coffee, we'd be a hypocrite.)
In addition to being bad for your overall health, frequent tobacco use results in significant teeth staining. Although nicotine is colorless by itself, it turns yellow when combined with oxygen and is easily absorbed into enamel causing a yellow or brown appearance. Tobacco stains are often difficult to remove because they have developed over years of smoking. Fortunately, these stains are not permanent and can be improved with a professional whitening session. However, if smoking is resumed afterward, it's recommended to utilize a take-home whitening kit to keep re-staining at bay.
WEAR & TEAR STAINS
Rather than a specific cause, this is a general term for stains caused by normal eating and drinking. Many foods and drinks contain compounds called chromogens which give them their color, and these compounds can easily stain our teeth. They may also contain tannin (like coffee) which also leads to staining. Additionally, acidic food and drinks wear down your enamel, increasing the chances of your teeth getting stained. A professional whitening session can improve these stains up to 14 shades. It also helps to, keep an on-the-go whitening pen handy to use after meals. This prevents the compounds from having enough time to be absorbed by the enamel.
The other main category of stain is Intrinsic.
Intrinsic stains are those that form on the interior of teeth. They may result from trauma, aging, exposure to drugs (like tetracycline) during tooth formation, and/or excessive ingestion of fluoride (fluorosis). Here are a few common intrinsic stains.
One medication known for causing tooth discoloration is the antibiotic tetracycline (and also minocycline and doxycycline). Typically, this type of stain appears as a blue/grey hue underneath the enamel. Teeth that have been stained by tetracycline can be stubborn to treat but, with an equally stubborn effort, people do see improvements. It's recommended to start off with a professional whitening session and follow up with bi-monthly at-home treatments. However, more difficult cases can easily require 2-6 months of at-home treatments and professional sessions.
FLUORIDE STAINS (FLUOROSIS)
Fluorosis is a largely irreversible condition that usually occurs when a child ingests too much fluoride in their drinking water during their early years when their teeth are still forming. Typically, fluorosis appears as chalky white spots or streaks across the surface of a tooth. In severe cases, it can even cause brown discoloration. If it's a very mild case, regular use of a whitening gel can sometimes help minimize the appearance of fluorosis. But in severe cases (especially with brown fluorosis staining), porcelain crowns and veneers would be needed to cover up the damage that has already occurred.
Because the core tissue of your teeth (dentin) naturally yellows over time, teeth discolor with age. As we age, the enamel that covers the tooth becomes thinner, allowing the dentin to show through. The result is a gradual increase of yellowing as you get older. Unfortunately, the best remedy is prevention. In addition to good oral health habits, adding a remineralizer to your daily routine will help restore crucial minerals and improve the hardness of your enamel thus slowing the natural thinning process.
As always, we hope learning more about the different types of tooth stains will help explain how best to deal with them. Let us know what other teeth whitening related topics you'd like to hear next!