Tooth Discoloration: Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

Tooth discoloration can impact your confidence and self-esteem but also indicate your overall oral health. Understanding the causes of tooth discoloration and knowing how to prevent and treat them is essential for maintaining a healthy smile.

What is Tooth Discoloration?

Tooth discoloration refers to a change in the color of the teeth, making them appear yellowed, less bright, or having white or dark specks. Causes of tooth discoloration include tobacco use, dental trauma, poor oral hygiene, and consumption of certain foods, drinks, and medications.

Types of Tooth Discoloration

There are two main types of tooth discoloration:

  1. Extrinsic discoloration: This type affects the outer surface of the teeth (enamel) and is caused by exposure to certain environmental factors, such as specific foods and beverages.
  2. Intrinsic discoloration occurs inside the tooth and affects the dentin (the layer beneath the enamel). Causes of intrinsic discoloration include dental trauma and certain medications.

Possible Causes of Tooth Discoloration

Several factors can cause tooth discoloration, some avoidable and others unavoidable.

Avoidable causes include:

  • Dark-colored foods and beverages
  • Smoking and other tobacco use
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Excessive fluoride consumption during childhood

Unavoidable causes of tooth discoloration:

  • Genetics
  • Dental trauma
  • Aging
  • Dental treatments
  • Certain diseases
  • Certain medications
  • Cancer treatments

Different Color Meanings of Tooth Stains

The color of tooth stains can often indicate the cause:

  • Yellow: usually due to consumption of dark-colored foods or beverages or poor oral hygiene
  • Brown: a result of smoking or using chewing tobacco, or untreated tooth decay
  • Purple: often affects people who consume a lot of red wine
  • Gray: may indicate a dead tooth nerve, often caused by a dental trauma
  • White: could be a sign of dental fluorosis, caused by high levels of fluoride consumption in childhood
  • Black: typically indicates areas of severe decay

Care and Treatment for Discolored Teeth

Dentists use various treatments for discolored teeth depending on the cause and type of discoloration. Treatments include:

  1. Teeth whitening: In-office or at-home professional teeth whitening treatments use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide to break up stains and lift them from the teeth.
  2. Dental bonding: This procedure involves applying tooth-colored composite resin to cover discolored teeth and is best for deep discoloration that doesn’t improve with whitening.
  3. Porcelain veneers: These tooth-colored ceramic shells are bonded to the front surfaces of the teeth to cover discoloration and other cosmetic flaws.
  4. Dental crowns: If discoloration is a symptom of cavities or weak teeth, dental crowns (tooth-shaped caps) may be recommended to protect the tooth from further damage.

Preventing Tooth Discoloration

Though deep dental stains due to trauma, medications, or health conditions can’t be prevented, there are steps you can take to reduce surface discoloration:

  • Brush your teeth two to three times a day using a soft-bristled brush and ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss between your teeth once a day
  • Limit tooth-staining foods and drinks
  • Drink plenty of water and rinse your mouth after consuming beverages that could cause discoloration
  • Quit smoking
  • Regularly visit your dentist for cleanings and exams

When to Call Your Dentist

If you have tooth discoloration combined with other symptoms like pain, bad breath, bleeding gums, or holes in your teeth, make an appointment with a dentist as soon as possible. Treating these issues early can help prevent more severe oral health problems.


Tooth discoloration is a common issue that can be addressed through various treatments and prevention methods. By understanding the causes and taking the necessary steps to maintain good oral hygiene, you can confidently keep your teeth looking bright and healthy.

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