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White teeth and tooth discoloration

Our teeth start out white and shiny, but can become discoloured as we age.

Causes of tooth discolouration include:

Smoking: Smoking tobacco can stain your teeth yellow. Heavy smokers often say their teeth have turned brown after years of smoking.

Food and drink: Coffee, tea, red wine and some fizzy drinks can stain teeth. Curries, tomato sauce, and berries such as blackberries, cranberries and blueberries, can also cause discolouration.

Poor dental hygiene: Inadequate brushing and flossing to remove plaque and stains from food, drinks and tobacco smoke can lead to discolouration.

Getting older: As you age, the enamel on the surface of your teeth becomes eroded. Small cracks in the enamel expose the inner section of your tooth, known as the dentin, which is more vulnerable to staining than the enamel.

Medication: Some medications can discolour teeth. These include antibiotics that belong to the tetracycline family.

Dental restoration: Many dental restorations use corrosive products that can give the teeth a grey colour.

Genetics: Some people have naturally whiter enamel than others.

Trauma: Trauma may cause tooth discolouration in children whose teeth have yet to erupt through the gums. This is because the trauma may damage the normal formation of enamel so the teeth lack a white coating.

How can I prevent teeth discolouration?

If you are a smoker, try to stop or at least cut back.

Reducing the amount of tea, coffee or red wine you drink will also help.

Ensure good dental hygiene by brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day thoroughly.

Your dentist or dental hygienist will be able to give your teeth a 'scale and polish' to get rid of the hard build-up of tartar and remove staining.

How can I make my teeth whiter?

Treatment options to make teeth whiter may include:

  • A regular brushing and flossing regime
  • Avoiding food and drink that stain teeth
  • Whitening toothpastes which may be particularly effective at removing stains and may prolong the colour of teeth which have been professionally whitened
  • The use of home whitening kits, including paint-on whiteners and strips
  • Professional bleaching or laser whitening
  • Dental veneers, in which a thin layer of tooth-coloured material - usually porcelain - is attached to the discoloured tooth.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 12, 2016

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