How to Prevent Teeth Stains and Keep Your Teeth White

How to Prevent Teeth Stains and Keep Your Teeth White
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How to Prevent Teeth Stains and Keep Your Teeth WhiteClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Why Do Teeth Stain?
  2. Causes
  3. Why Some More Than Others?
  4. Oral Health Issues
  5. Prevention
  6. Whiter Teeth Without Whitening
  7. Whitening Options
  8. References

Teeth stains are a routine issue that can detract from a person's appearance and lower their self-esteem. There are two types of stains – those that form on the surface of your teeth (intrinsic stains) and those that develop inside the structure of teeth (intrinsic staining).

You can prevent and remove extrinsic stains in several ways, including whitening toothpastes and professional bleaching.

Intrinsic stains can sometimes be prevented, but they cannot be removed. They can be disguised with dental prostheses that cover the stained teeth with artificial material.

Why Do Teeth Stain?

There are two types of teeth stains: extrinsic stains and intrinsic stains.

Extrinsic Stains

Extrinsic stains occur when dark-colored particles from food, drink, tobacco and other substances (such as medications) bond to the outside of your enamel. The bonds take time to form, so most of these particles can be removed with regular brushing.

When they are not brushed away quickly or if exposure is too frequent, stains may settle onto the teeth. Once this happens, you can only clean them away with specialized whitening products or treatments.

Intrinsic Stains

Exposure to certain substances during the dental development period usually causes intrinsic stains. You can also get them from an injury or because of aging or injury.

Intrinsic stains form inside a person's tooth enamel. Dentists cannot removed them or even lighten them.

The only way to make teeth with intrinsic stains appear whiter is to cover the stains with permanent cosmetic treatments, such as dental crowns or veneers.

Causes of Tooth Stains

Extrinsic tooth stains can be caused by many factors, including:

  • Food and drink. Dark-colored food and drink often contains compounds that can leave stains on your teeth, especially with frequent exposure. Some common culprits include coffee, tea, soda, blackberries, tomato sauce, wine, and grape juice.
  • Tobacco use. Nicotine and tar are key components of many tobacco products, and both can stain your teeth.
  • Disease. Some diseases and their treatments (especially chemotherapy for head and neck cancers) can cause tooth discoloration. This problem usually goes away when treatment is finished.

Intrinsic stains are caused by different factors. These include:

  • Use of certain medications (especially tetracycline). If you ingest these medications in high doses before your permanent teeth have fully developed, the enamel and dentin on those teeth may not develop properly.
  • Fluoride exposure. Ingesting high amounts of fluoride (in water, toothpaste, tablets, or any other form) as a child can lead to fluorosis, a condition that causes white or brown areas to appear on the teeth.
  • Aging. Human teeth gradually lose layers of their enamel over time. The less enamel you have left, the more the dark yellow color of your tooth’s inner layer (the dentin) will show through.
  • Dental injuries as a child. Dental injuries that occurred while a child’s permanent teeth were still developing can cause the affected teeth to develop discolored areas on their enamel.
  • Dental injuries as an adult. Injuries as an adult can also cause tooth discoloration if they impact a tooth’s blood flow. When this happens, the tooth may turn gray, blue, or purple due to the blood collecting in its inner tissues.

If you have any visible restorations like fillings, crowns, or veneers, these may also become stained. Common dental materials such as porcelain and zirconia stain easily and cannot be whitened using typical whitening methods like bleaching.

Why Do Some Teeth Stain More Than Others?

Extrinsic tooth stains almost always occur evenly throughout the mouth. If you have stains that are only visible on some of your teeth, those stains are probably intrinsic and related to something that happened while they were still developing.

However, some people's teeth stain more easily than others’. This is because of natural variation in the color and thickness of tooth enamel.

Human teeth are not naturally white. Each person’s teeth are a slightly different color.

Potential colors range from light grays and beiges to darker yellows.

When the surfaces of differently colored teeth are stained, the stain looks darker on some than on others. Teeth that were naturally darker to begin with can look much more heavily stained than lighter teeth with the same stains on them.

Oral Health Issues That Can Change the Color of Your Teeth

Several oral health issues can change the color of your teeth.

  • Tooth decay can look like staining in some cases, especially one the biting surfaces of the teeth. Always have a dentist investigate any stains on your teeth to be sure that they are not actually cavities.
  • Amalgam restorations can give a tooth a blue-gray cast. The larger the restoration, the more noticeable this effect usually is.
  • Resin composite fillings (also known as white fillings) do not alter the color of your teeth like amalgam ones do. But it is easy for staining particles to seep into the margins of these restorations. This can cause your teeth to develop dark stains around the edges of your white fillings.

How to Prevent Teeth Stains

To prevent teeth stains:

  • Avoid food and drink that is known to stain teeth. The less your teeth are exposed to these things, the less likely they will be to develop stains.
  • If you drink any dark-colored liquids like grape juice or colas, sip them through a straw. This will minimize the level of contact they have with your teeth.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Get regular cleanings at your dentist’s office. Dental cleanings not only help you maintain good oral health, but also scrub away built-up surface stains.

Tips for Whiter Teeth Without Whitening

There are a few things you can do to whiten your teeth without using whitening products. Here are the top tips:

  • Brush your teeth 30 minutes after consuming any food or drink that could stain your teeth. This will prevent the stains from settling onto your enamel.
  • Use an electric toothbrush. Electric brushes have been shown to remove more tooth stains than manual brushes.
  • Chew sugarless gum. This will stimulate saliva flow in your mouth and create some friction to clean away some of the staining particles. High-fiber foods like beans and kale provide similar effects.
  • Consider visiting your dentist for more frequent cleanings. Getting a cleaning every three months or less instead of every six months will keep surface stains from building up on your teeth.

Most home remedies for whiter teeth (such as oil pulling, brushing with charcoal or baking soda or using fruit juice solutions to bleach your teeth) lack much evidence to support their use. The American Dental Association against using them, stating that they have not been medically proven as effective and may harm your teeth and gums.

Whitening Options to Consider

You have many different products and treatments available to whiten your smile. Among them:

  • Over-the-counter bleaching products
  • Whitening toothpastes
  • In-office whitening treatments
  • Dental prosthetics
Over-the-Counter Bleaching Products

There are many over-the-counter teeth whitening solutions available at most drug stores. These products use mild bleaching solutions to weaken the bonds that hold staining molecules together. They are available in gels, trays, and strips. All will lighten your teeth by several shades, especially over several applications.

These products can cause sensitivity in your teeth and gums, especially if they are left on the teeth for longer periods of time than their packaging advises. Follow the instructions on the packaging very carefully when using these products to avoid causing any temporary discomfort or permanent damage to your teeth.

Whitening Toothpastes

Most major brands of toothpaste have a version that is specifically formulated to whiten teeth. These formulas add extra abrasive particles to the paste to clean stains off the surface of your teeth.

These pastes have a mild whitening effect, but dentists caution against using these them too often. The same abrasive particles that provide the whitening effect can also strip away some of your enamel.

In-Office Whitening Treatments

In-office whitening treatments are professional grade bleaching solutions that can be administered by your dentist at your request. These treatments are much stronger than anything that is available over the counter, so far safety reasons, they are only available in dental offices and other settings with professional supervision. Dentists can also prepare slightly weaker versions of these treatments for at-home use.

These treatments provide a much more pronounced whitening effect than over-the-counter treatments or toothpastes. However, they are also significantly more expensive, making them impractical for regular use.

Dental Prosthetics

Dental prosthetics like dental veneers and crowns can also be used to make your smile look whiter. These prosthetics cover up your real teeth with artificial ones that can be made in any color you want. You can use them to attain shades of white that would be impossible to achieve with natural teeth.

You should know that these prosthetics can stain just as easily as natural teeth and cannot be whitened like teeth can. If you stain your crowns or veneers, you will have to have them replaced to enjoy a white smile again.


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Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.