If you’ve noticed your teeth losing their luster, either internal or external factors could be to blame. Once you know the source of your tooth discoloration, it’s easy to come up with the right plan to avoid it.

The anatomy of your tooth

Enamel is the hard coating of mineralized tissue that protects your teeth. Enamel is semi-translucent and varies in color from light yellow to grayish white. This strong exterior protects the inner layers of dentin and pulp inside your tooth.

Dentin is directly underneath your enamel. This yellowish to brownish layer is made up of living tissue and tubules — or hollow channels — that carry sensations from the enamel of your tooth to the pulp. This layer of your tooth is often responsible for sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.

The innermost layer of your tooth is the pulp. This soft tissue contains blood vessels and nerve tissues, and it’s typically the source of tooth pain if it’s decayed or damaged.

When your teeth grow stained, it’s due to either intrinsic tooth discoloration, extrinsic issues, or a combination of the two.

Intrinsic tooth discoloration

Intrinsic tooth discoloration develops from changes inside your tooth, and they can occur for various reasons.

Trauma

Both trauma and disease can impact your tooth color. Dentin works to stimulate the nerves and cells within your tooth. When your tooth is damaged, especially the pulp, its natural response is to produce more dentin, which can cause discoloration. Discoloration can also indicate that you’ve been bleeding inside your tooth.

Medications

Certain medications like high blood pressure pills, antihistamines, and antipsychotics can lead to tooth staining. Some can also impact the development of enamel while a child is in the womb or up to age 8, while they’re still developing their teeth.

Your teeth can also get discolored due to medical treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.

Extrinsic tooth discoloration

Tooth discoloration that’s external is due to stained tooth enamel. While enamel is the most highly mineralized and hardest substance in your body, it stains very easily. The most common causes of extrinsic tooth discoloration are food and tobacco.

Food

Foods that are the darkest in colors are typically the most likely to leave stains because they’re high in pigment-producing substances that can stick to your enamel. These types of foods include:

  • Berries
  • Red wine
  • Dark sauces
  • Coffee and tea

Consuming beverages and foods that are acidic can exacerbate the problem by eroding your tooth enamel. This erosion makes it easier for teeth to stain.

Tobacco

Tobacco contains two elements that stain teeth: nicotine and tar.

Found in both cigarettes and chewing tobacco, these substances absorb easily into the pores of your teeth and cause extensive staining.

Tooth discoloration due to aging

Age-related tooth discoloration is due to both intrinsic and extrinsic issues.

As you age, your enamel thins out, which allows more of the yellowish dentin to show through. Enamel isn’t replaced when it’s damaged or wears away because it doesn’t contain any living cells.

Your dentin also grows more yellow over the years, increasing its visibility through your enamel.

Keeping your teeth pearly white

Despite the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that increase your risk of tooth discoloration, there are steps you can take to retain your healthy, white smile.

Watch what you eat

The first step to preventing tooth discoloration is reducing extrinsic factors that cause staining. If you can’t avoid your favorite dark-colored foods or beverages, rinsing your mouth with water or brushing your teeth after enjoying them can reduce their potential for staining.

Make your oral health a priority

Brushing your teeth after each meal can significantly reduce your risk of extrinsic staining. Additionally, treating dental issues before your tooth can decay or darken can help you avoid some intrinsic stains.

Have regular, professional cleanings

Professional dental cleanings at University Oaks Dental not only remove stains from your enamel, they also treat the buildup of plaque and tartar that can make your teeth appear yellow. Regular cleanings can also prevent tooth decay and help detect potential tooth issues before they become serious.

To restore your smile’s shiny luster, University Oaks Dental also offers in-office or at-home teeth whitening treatments. These professional methods help you achieve your brightest, whitest smile safely in as little as a single treatment.

For more information on dealing with stained teeth, or to otherwise brighten your smile, call University Oaks Dental or schedule an appointment online today.