Dentists hear of many different complains from their visiting patients, with one of the most common being discolouration of teeth. Stained or discoloured teeth can have a very negative impact on some people’s lives. In extreme cases people can become very depressed and give up on social interaction because they feel so self conscious and embarrassed at having stained teeth. Not being able to laugh, smile or talk too closely to someone in fear of them seeing their discoloured teeth can have a huge negative effect on their mental health. In this article I will be covering the most common causes of stained teeth, followed by some tips on how to get rid of and avoid getting them.
I would just like to start off by saying that yellow coloured teeth do NOT mean unhealthy teeth. In fact, some research has concluded that yellow teeth are more resistant to decay that gleaming white teeth.
What are the causes of teeth staining? And more Importantly, how do we get rid of them?
Causes of teeth staining
There are two main types of teeth staining which are called “extrinsic staining” and “intrinsic staining”. The difference between the two is that extrinsic staining is on the surface of teeth while intrinsic staining refers to stains inside the structure of teeth.
There are many things that can cause staining of the teeth that most people are unaware of. There are some people who take matters into their own hands and adopted bad teeth cleaning practises in the hope of whitening their teeth but they can actually be doing more harm than good.
Most people believe that brushing immediately after eating is the best way to prevent stains from forming and I have also heard people advise others to do this, but sorry, this is one of the worst times you can choose to brush your teeth. After eating some acidic foods, for example fruits or juice it can weaken the tooth enamel. By brushing your teeth when the enamel is at it’s weakest you can brush the protective enamel away. It’s a good idea to brush before breakfast as your tooth enamel will be strong and coating your teeth in fluoride will help avoid dental corrosion. Leave it at least one hour after eating until you brush.
Before I talk about some of the things you can do to clear and avoid teeth of stains, I’m going to talk about causes.
Examples of things that cause extrinsic staining
- Build up of plaque from poor brushing routine
- Excessive exposure to Antibacterial chlorhexidine found in some mouthwashes
- Drinks such as red wine, coffee, tea, cranberry juice and fizzy soft drinks
- Foods such as some acidic fruits and vegetables
- Rich sauces such as curry and Soy Sauce
- Some sweets that have strong colouring
- Some antibiotics such as tetracycline
Note: Just because certain things such as coffee, red wine and fizzy drinks are more prone to cause staining, it does not mean you have to completely avoid them to keep your teeth white. As long as these things are consumed in moderation and you follow a good brushing routine you should not experience any problems. I personally enjoy a cup of coffee and manage to keep my teeth white because I have good oral hygiene.
Examples of things that cause intrinsic staining
- Excessive exposure to fluoride during tooth development
- Thinning of tooth enamel in old age
Examples of combined extrinsic and intrinsic
Smoking can cause both surface stains and deeper intrinsic staining within the structure of teeth
Bad tooth decay can cause surface stains and allow stains to penetrate into the to structure also causing intrinsic staining
The worst Culprits for Teeth Staining
Food: One of the biggest offenders that can cause staining of teeth is food and drinks. Red wine for example is notorious for its staining ability, even white wine promotes staining. Wine contains tannins and chromogens, is acidic and rich in colour ranking it among one of the worst teeth staining drinks. A dentist University in New York conducted a study that found teeth became significantly more stained by tea after being exposed to wine.
Just like wine, sugary fizzy drinks such as Cola are very rich in colour, chromogen and acidic. This is a potent teeth staining cocktail. Like the wine mentioned above, even light coloured soft drinks can promote staining because of their sugary and acidic properties. You may also be interested to know that I found information on a study that was carried out by Nutrition major in their bacteriology lab where they tested a variety of popular soft drinks such as Diet Coke, Fanta, Ginger Ale and regular Coke to find out which one faired the worst at causing tooth decay. They found that Regular Coke was the worst at causing bacteria growth in the mouth and concluded that Regular Coke would lead to tooth decay the quickest when compared to the others.
Dentists use Phosphoric acid to corrode tooth enamel for etching just before applying a composite white filling. This Phosphoric acid will cause erosion of tooth enamel, and guess what? Phosphoric acid is an ingredient in Coke and other fizzy, sugary drinks. So not only can fizzy drinks cause staining of teeth but they can seriously damage them too.
It’s ironic that we say people who like sweets have a “sweet tooth” when sweets themselves can cause problems with teeth such as cavities and staining. However, not all sweets cause staining, it’s sweets that are very rich in colour that are the offenders here. I think we have all seen a child with a blue or red tongue from eating sweets at some point. It’s these kind of strong coloured sweets that dentists say can cases staining.
Smoking: Bit of an obvious one, we all know how bad smoking is for our overall health and I’m sure most are well aware that this will cause staining of teeth. Before I talk about how smoking affects the colour of teeth, I want to take this opportunity to talk about other important oral problems that come from smoking.
Smoking is not only a sure way to get very stained teeth but to make things worse can also cause bad breath, bone loss, mouth sores, and reduced sense of taste and up to 4 x more likely to develop oral cancer. People who smoke have far more hardened dental plaque than non smokers. Tobacco contains substrates called cytotoxic that destroy our body’s cells and studies have also shown that smoking can lead to gum disease. Smoking also causes vasoconstriction which is the narrowing of blood vessels. This narrowing reduces circulation and has been shown to be reduced blood flow by up to 70% during smoking.
Genetics: Some people just have genetically darker coloured, yellow grey or off white teeth compared to others. They are not stained from food, smoking or poor oral hygiene, it’s just that some people have brighter or ticker tooth enamel then others.
Things like the amount of calcium in teeth can have an impact on their colour. The development stages of teeth as a child can effect their colour as an adult. Such things as over exposure to fluoride as a child can cause a condition called Dental fluorosis, which can results in mild to severe discoloration. The risk of overexposure to fluoride that leads to this Dental fluorosis is most likely between ages of 3 and 8 years.
Poor Oral hygiene: Poor oral hygiene can be a contributing factor to stained teeth, irregular and poor brushing technique can lead to discoloration. However, even people who follow a good brushing routine and care greatly for their teeth can have staining through some of the points mentioned above. Dentists recommend that we brush our teeth for at least two minutes and replace our brush every 3 months. It’s my guess that many people don’t follow these crucial recommendations.
How to Avoid and Clean Stained Teeth
Now that we have covered some common causes of teeth staining I’m going to give 3 tips on how to avoid and remove them.
Tip 1: Adopt a good brushing routine for improved stain removal and prevention.
Step 1: Rinse your mouth out with water before brushing to remove any chunks of food hiding between teeth before brushing.
Step 2: Use a good quality electric toothbrush such as an oral B Triumph 5000 as studies have shown that this toothbrush can remove twice as much plaque compared to manual brushing. This kind of toothbrush will ensure you get an even and thorough clean across all teeth and below the gum line. Another advantage of using this toothbrush is that it automatically tracks and alerts you after 3 months when it’s time to change brush heads, ensuring optimum brushing conductions are maintained at all times. Use EB18-4 3D White Oral B toothbrush heads which are specially designed to help remove stains.
Step 3: Use a good quality toothpaste such as Arm & Hammer Brilliant Sparkle which contains baking soda. This particular toothpaste has been shown to remove over 80% more plaque than a leading brand. Test and dentists conclude that backing soda found in this toothpaste has a bleaching effect that removes stains and whitens teeth.
Step 4: Finishing off your brushing routine by rinsing with a Tooth Whitening Mouthwash such as Listerine Total Care plus.
Don’t over do it when brushing! As I have already mentioned, intrinsic is staining which is within the structure of the tooth, brushing is not going to remove this kind of deep internal staining. You should seek advice from a dental profession if you have excessive or intrinsic staining that you wish to remove.
Tip 2: Chew sugar free gum during the day between brushing. It has been proven that chewing sugar free gum can reduce tooth decay. It does this because chewing gum stimulates the production of more saliva in the mouth. This extra saliva acts as a natural buffering agent which helps to wash teeth. The extra saliva also neutralizes harmful acid which is responsible for tooth decay. Chewing sugar free gum during the day between brushing can help keep your teeth clean and free from the build up of stains.
Tip 3: If you are fond of coffee, red wine or fizzy drinks it would be a good idea to cut back on these teeth staining culprits if you think you are drinking more than you should. By all means, enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of red wine at night, but drinking coffee all day could lead to discolouring of teeth. Take note of how much of these stain promoting drinks you are consuming each day and look at where you could cut back.