Discoloured Teeth: The Causes

In today’s image-conscious society, the dull, stained effects of tooth discolouration represent a common dental complaint. So what causes it? And can it be treated?

There are many circumstances that can cause discoloured teeth. Most of the time, the stains are “extrinsic”, which means it only affects the tooth enamel. Extrinsic discolouration is staining caused by food or drink such as coffee, wine, curries and soy sauce.

Smoking and other tobacco can yellow teeth over time as well. In addition, creating an acidic environment in the mouth – whether through eating acidic food or by not brushing and flossing regularly – can make the enamel much more vulnerable to staining.

The best way to avoid extrinsic stains is to brush your teeth right after eating foods that can cause discolouration, and to make sure you’re brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing, too.

When you do consume such foods and drinks, you can mitigate their effects in several ways. Drink tea or coffee with a little milk, for example. Or drink iced tea or iced coffee through a straw. The same goes for fruit juices, sports drinks, and other carbonated drinks — use a straw whenever possible!

Interestingly enough, chewing sugarless gum can help neutralise the acids in the mouth. High-fibre foods can help lower the acid level as well; foods such as beans or spinach and other leafy greens help to generate more saliva in the mouth and can essentially “scrub” the teeth clean.

If extrinsic staining has already occurred, you can get your teeth whitened by a professional. But never, ever try and do it yourself!

Unfortunately, some types of discolouration cannot be so easily erased… the discolouration may be “intrinsic”, that is, embedded in the tooth. This can result from use of certain antibiotics and other medications, or from trauma to a child’s tooth, such as a fall or a sports injury.

Discolouration can also occur if the outer layer of enamel has worn away — for instance, through excessive tooth grinding. To lessen the effects of tooth grinding, night time appliances can be used, and composite fillings or crowns may be used to repair damage and restore appearance. If too much damage has been done from grinding, however, restorative treatment may be necessary.

Finally, a calcium deficiency can cause discolouration, and large doses of fluoride can lead to white spots on the teeth, a condition known as fluorosis that particularly affects children under the age of 6.

If you’d like one of our dentists to take a look at your teeth and discuss what your whitening or restorative options are, simply give us a call on 020 8088 2079 and we’ll book you in.