The Best Way to Whiten Discolored Teeth

smiling woman showing off before an after teeth whitening

Problem: “My discolored teeth make me look unhealthy and unattractive, so I’m embarrassed about my smile. I want to whiten my teeth, but I don’t know the best product or treatment for my dental stains.”

Solution: “Your tooth stains can be corrected, but there are many types of tooth whitening products on the market. When you understand what kinds of stains your teeth have, you’ll know which type of whitening should be most effective.”

In this article, you’ll learn about:

  • professional and over-the-counter teeth whitening options
  • what each treatment involves
  • how teeth stain
  • different kinds of tooth discoloration
  • which treatments are best for certain stains
  • how to find a dentist to correct your discolored teeth

The Cause of Discolored Teeth

Although dental enamel is the hardest thing the human body creates, it has small pores and it naturally yellows over time. Staining agents in the pores tarnish the white shell, making teeth appear yellow, bluish, grayish, or dull.

Stains can stem from many different food and drink sources. The stains can come from:

  • Tobacco (smoking or chewing)
  • Dark berries
  • Tomatoes
  • Coffee, Tea
  • Red Wine
  • Curries, Turmeric

As we grow older, our teeth become yellowed from years of contact with staining agents. Drinking from a straw to drink coffee can help. Replacing red wine with white wine is another great option.

Another cause of staining is tobacco use. Smoking is an oral health problem. It can make the enamel surface appear dull or dark. The best way to prevent tobacco staining is to quit smoking. Cleanings by a dental hygienist can help.

Teeth yellowing and some tooth decay are natural, but not wanted. White teeth look youthful, which is something most people want, so teeth whitening is the most popular cosmetic dental treatment.

Types of Tooth Discoloration

Stains may occur on the outside of teeth, as described above, but they can also develop inside teeth. For instance, if a tooth’s nerve is damaged and bleeds, the blood causes that tooth to appear dark.

Also, as our teeth and their first stage (teeth buds) develop, they can become discolored. Children whose mothers took antibiotics during pregnancy may have a dark hue on their teeth, once those adult teeth develop. 

Taking certain medications (antibiotics tetracycline) or swallowing fluoride, like that in mouth wash and toothpaste, during early childhood affect tooth color. Fluoride stains appear as bright white horizontal lines.

Stains on the outside of teeth, in the enamel, are called extrinsic or topical. Discoloration inside a tooth is known as intrinsic staining. Both types of stains can be eliminated, but the processes are different for each. 

Treatment Options for Teeth Whitening

Enamel stains respond to professional whitening. Whitening products may be purchased at stores and big box stores in these types of systems:

  • Gels  with applicator trays
  • Strips that stick to teeth
  • Pens to “color” teeth
  • Mouthwash
  • Toothpaste

Bleaching Techniques

Peroxide in these products bleaches tooth enamel. The amount of it in over the counter bleaing products is not very concentrated. 

General dentists usually offer in office and take home whitening options. Whitening in the dentist’s office may involve applying a gel that reacts to light. A chemical reaction occurs when the gel is exposed to the light, and stains are rapidly removed. 

Another type of in office whitening involves a combination of potent in office sessions, along with home treatments. A custom-made tray holds the whitening gel against teeth for a specific amount of time. Many treatments add up to dramatic results. 

There’s one more option for whitening teeth in the dentist’s office, laser whitening. A hard-tissue dental laser can remove surface stains from teeth. The effect is similar to using an abrasive toothpaste to scrub stains from teeth. We don’t recommend this aggressive technique. Enamel is similar to glass and it will crack with temperature changes.

Some patients prefer to only bleach their teeth at home. They want the benefit of a professional gel. In this case, a dentist will provide gel and trays, along with instructions for home use. Home kits can take 7 to 14 days to produce final results. 

Patients should keep their whitening trays and order gel from the dentist’s office as needed. When tooth enamel begins to tarnish, simply purchase more gel and use the trays as before. 

All of these systems treat surface stains. Internally stained teeth will not whiten with chemicals. 

Internally stained teeth can be permanently whitened by covering enamel with composite resin or porcelain. This means applying tooth bonding, porcelain crowns, or porcelain veneers. 

Identifying Your Type of Tooth Discoloration

If your teeth have been white in the past, but over time the enamel has changed hue, your stains are most likely outside. 

If your stains look bright white and run horizontally across your teeth, or if you’ve always had one or more dark teeth, the stains are likely intrinsic. Also, if you’ve damaged a tooth and it grew dark after sustaining the injury, the nerve may have bled. This is intrinsic staining, as well.

Finding the Right Dentist

So you want your discolored teeth refreshed to look pearly white, youthful, and healthy. Your first step could be trying over-the-counter products. Most require that you use them for a few weeks to notice results. If kits from a store or home remedies give you the results you want, you may not need to go to the dentist.

Most people prefer professional bleaching because the results are more dramatic. Professional treatments can brighten enamel up to 10 shades. You can maintain your results and oral health by brushing and flossing. Conversely, poor dental hygiene can lead to erosion of the top layer of your tooth and, eventually, a root canal infection. 

When searching for a dentist to treat external stains, review websites and online patient stories. Look for products like Zoom Whitening or KoR Deep Bleaching if you want instant whitening. Otherwise, seek out a local dentist with great reviews that specifically focus on cosmetic dentistry or teeth whitening.

Most dentists offer a home whitening system for purchase in their office. These systems have similar contents, the gels contain the maximum allowed level of bleach. 

For an experienced aesthetic and restorative dentist who offers an array of professional whitening options, call Dr. James Fondriest’s office. Lake Forest Dental Arts is located in Lake Forest near Chicago. He’ll meet with you, discuss your discolored teeth concerns, and explain the treatments that will work well for your case.