The Two Types of Tooth Discoloration

December 19, 2013 @ 10:53 AM -- by Dr. Weston

San Diego Tooth DiscolorationEveryone wants to have a bright, attractive smile. But years of tooth stains can really take a toll on their natural white shade. Before undergoing treatment to remove discoloration, it’s necessary to understand what type of discoloration is present and how it was caused. Depending on the type of stain, a different method of treatment may be suggested by your cosmetic dentist

At our San Diego dental office, we want our patients’ smiles to look their best, using the appropriate techniques to meet each patient’s expectations. If you are considering a way to professionally remove or conceal stains, take a moment to learn the types of discoloration and which one many be applicable to you.

Types of Tooth Discoloration

Stains in teeth can generally be separated into two distinct categories: intrinsic and extrinsic.

  • Extrinsic stains, also called surface stains, are the more common type of tooth discoloration. They rest above or within the surface of a tooth’s enamel. Typically the result of food, drink, or other products that come in contact with teeth, surface stains often appear to make teeth yellow or darker over time. Due to their location, extrinsic stains are much more easily removed or reduced. 
  • Intrinsic stains, also called deep stains, are embedded within the dentin tissue below enamel. Although they may arise from multiple sources, deep stains are far less common. They are usually individually visible, as opposed to an overall discoloration of teeth. In most instances, deep stains are more easily hidden through cosmetic treatment than removed.

Causes of Discoloration

Surface stains are primarily caused by food and drink, accumulating over time. With diligent hygiene habits, most food particles can be removed from teeth before they have an opportunity to stain. However, some foods pose an elevated risk of leaving their mark: brightly colored candy, berries, and sauces to just name a few. Similarly, drinks such as coffee, tea, wine, and sports drinks are likely to stain if not washed away.

In addition to food, tobacco is a prime suspect for surface staining. Whether through smoking or chewing tobacco, teeth can easily yellow with use, even when coupled with good brushing and flossing habits. 

Deep stains may arise from a variety of factors:

  • Fluoride: If a child or adolescent is exposed to an abundance of fluoride while teeth are still growing, a white stain may appear within them
  • Medication: Certain medications can also result in stains, most notably tetracycline - the side effects of which can even be passed on to a child’s teeth from pregnancy.
  • Injury: A chipped, cracked, or otherwise injured tooth may leak blood into the dentin, resulting in a dark line or blotch of discoloration.
  • Illness: Although rare, some disease or their treatments have the potential to internally discolor teeth.   

Treatment for Discoloration

If your teeth are primarily discolored from extrinsic staining, teeth whitening treatment can be an effective and easy solution. With one professional whitening session, years of stains can be removed, leaving teeth whiter and brighter.

For intrinsic stains, whitening often has little effect. Instead, such stains are better fixed through concealment. A dental bonding procedure, for instance, can mask discoloration with thin coats of composite resin. This resin is color-matched to teeth, providing a more appropriate shade over the stain that will last for years.

If stains are particularly stubborn or difficult to hide, a tooth can be resurfaced and covered in its entirety with a porcelain veneer. Porcelain is an aesthetically superior dental material, customized to match your tooth exactly and blend in seamlessly with your smile. Porcelain veneers are durable and stain resistant, enhancing your appearance for many years with the right care.    

Whiten Your Teeth Today

Get rid of your distracting stains today! Contact our office to ask about our various cosmetic treatments for tooth discoloration, or to meet with one of our experienced cosmetic dentists for an initial consultation.

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