The Science of Stains and Teeth Whitening

Although teeth whitening is one of the most popular cosmetic dental treatments today, it isn’t the only way to brighten dull teeth or erase the stains that mar them. In fact, in many cases, teeth whitening won’t suffice, depending on the nature and severity of the stains. Your teeth are comprised of a dense, porous, bone-like substance called dentin, which is surrounded by a semi-translucent material known as enamel. Though dentin dictates the color of your tooth, enamel is often the first to stain (extrinsic staining), and can usually be brightened with teeth whitening treatment. If the discoloration originates underneath enamel, within the tooth’s dentin, then the staining is intrinsic (internal), and won’t respond to whitening chemicals.

The Colors of Teeth

Unlike other dental issues, such as preventable cavities and gum disease, nearly everyone experiences teeth stains at least once in their lifetime, regardless of how well they care for their dental health. When your smile begins to lose its signature pearly-white appearance, your confidence might wane along with it. If the tooth is turning dark or black from within, then it’s likely in the grips of an infection, or tooth decay, and requires restorative treatment. Most discoloration, though, involves dullness and/or variations in the shade of teeth, and can be corrected with a cosmetic dental procedure.

Extrinsic (External) Staining

Extrinsic stains are the most common form of teeth stains, occurring on or just underneath the surface layers of tooth enamel. All foods and beverages have the potential to change teeth’s color, though darkly-pigmented substances, like wine, coffee, tea, and rich sauces, may stain teeth faster and more noticeably. Common factors that can increase your risk of extrinsic stains may include;

  • Weak enamel due to acidic food, or acids produced by oral bacteria when you eat
  • Frequent snacking
  • Inadequate tooth-brushing and flossing
  • Small cracks in enamel (craze lines) in which plaque and bacteria can gather

Treatment options

To erase common surface stains, Dr. Fondriest often recommends in-office or at-home teeth whitening, depending on your specific needs and preferences. In-office bleaching can brighten your teeth in just one office visit, usually lasting just over an hour. Take-home whitening kits consist of custom-designed trays that allow you to apply the brightening gel evenly from the comfort of your home. If your stains are too stubborn for chemical whitening, Dr. Fondriest might suggest cosmetic dental bonding or porcelain veneers to improve your smile’s color.

Intrinsic (Internal) Staining

The mineral layer surrounding your teeth is semi-translucent, allowing you to see the dentin underneath. When the bulk of your tooth changes color, the intrinsic staining is known as discoloration, and might indicate a number of different issues. Intrinsic staining frequently results from;

  • Excessive exposure to fluoride as a child, when teeth are still developing
  • Tetracycline antibiotics used during pregnancy or within the first eight years of a child’s life
  • Dental trauma to a still-developing tooth
  • Trauma to a permanent tooth, where internal bleeding occurred
  • Smoking and/or smokeless tobacco use

Treatment options

Although typically more severe than extrinsic stains, internal tooth discoloration can still be treated with cosmetic dental procedures if the health of the tooth isn’t threatened. A porcelain dental crown can completely conceal a single discolored tooth, or Dr. Fondriest can bond custom-designed, handcrafted porcelain veneers to revamp several or all of your teeth at once. Each veneer is carefully designed to the specific measurements of your tooth, and then bonded to its front surface. Because of their diversity, durability, and lifelike appearance, porcelain veneers are regularly referred to as an instant smile makeover, or included as part of a more complex makeover plan.

many of the foods and drinks we consume can stain our teeth and take away from their beauty.

Below are five of the main drink offenders:

Black Coffee: If you’re a hardcore coffee drinker, you probably like it black. But the darker your coffee is, the worse the stains. Add some milk or soy milk to your coffee to cut down on stains and add a boost of vitamins and minerals.

Tea: Maybe you’ve switched from coffee to tea because of health benefits like antioxidants and tannins (compounds that attack bacteria and plaque). But black tea causes teeth stains on your teeth. Try green, white, and herbal teas instead.

Red Wine: Like tea, red wine contains tannins. Red wine also contains polyphenols, which help prevent gum disease. But polyphenols also cause staining. The alcohol in red wine is highly acidic, which wears away your enamel, too.

Sodas: Dark soft drinks contain coloring, which stains teeth, as well as phosphoric acid, citric acid, and sugar. Ice cold sodas pose another threat because they make your enamel porous.

Cranberry Juice: Dark juices contain nutrients, but they can make your teeth yellow. Cranberry juice, in particular, often contains high amounts of sugar to offset the bitterness of the fruit.

If you do choose to drink any of these beverages, use a straw and/or rinse your mouth with water afterwards.

About Your Lake Forest Cosmetic Dentist:

Aside from providing expert general and restorative dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds highly-respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve the Chicago metropolitan area including the North Shore and Northwest suburbs. To schedule your consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.