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Tooth staining or discoloration refers to a change in the tooth’s color. Depending on where they occur, tooth stains can be classified as extrinsic or intrinsic.
Extrinsic (surface) stains develop when colored compounds accumulate on the tooth’s outer surface. The hard, outer layer of teeth is called enamel.
Most extrinsic stains occur due to environmental factors or behaviors, such as:
Intrinsic stains develop inside teeth, often inside the enamel or dentin, which is the layer under the enamel. Dentin contains microscopic hollow tubes that are connected to a tooth’s nerve.
Intrinsic tooth stains occur due to:
You can also develop intrinsic tooth stains with age. Over time, tooth enamel becomes more transparent and thinner. This allows the natural yellow color of dentin to become more apparent.
Learn about the safest ways to whiten your teeth.
Several at-home products can remove extrinsic or intrinsic teeth stains. There is a difference in how these products remove extrinsic and intrinsic stains, though.
Teeth-whitening products that remove extrinsic stains use abrasive compounds that physically rub off staining compounds.
Teeth-whitening products that remove intrinsic stains use bleaching agents that change tooth color by causing a chemical reaction. The most commonly used chemicals in whitening products are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide.
Certain types of peroxide cause an oxidizing chemical reaction. Oxidation occurs when oxygen molecules from peroxide interact with chromophores, organic compounds found in dentin and enamel.
Peroxide reaches the inner layers of teeth by entering through small spaces in the enamel and dentin, usually within just fifteen minutes of exposure.
“Think of teeth-whitening products as an exfoliating face wash; they both are abrasive and remove the surface layer of either tooth or skin,” says Dr. Khushbu Aggarwal, one of NewMouth’s in-house dentists. “For this reason, it is important to be mindful that using teeth-whitening products over time can cause increased tooth and/or gum sensitivity. It is also important not to try to whiten teeth that may have cavities,” she adds.
With that in mind, here are the products you can use to remove teeth stains:
Most whitening toothpastes contain abrasive compounds that rub off stain accumulation on teeth. Many times, these stains have accumulated over days or weeks.
Whitening toothpastes can effectively remove extrinsic stains with consistent use. Some toothpastes also contain low levels of bleaching agents that remove intrinsic stains.
You can use a whitening toothpaste as you would regular toothpaste.
Most whitening chewing gums contain abrasive compounds that remove extrinsic teeth stains over time. They may also contain low levels of bleaching agents that tackle intrinsic stains.
Chew whitening gum several times a day for best results. Make sure to use a sugar-free gum to reduce cavity risk.
Whitening strips contain low levels of bleaching agents that remove intrinsic stains.
Leave whitening strips on the teeth for several minutes or as directed. They usually take a few weeks to work.
Whitening pens contain bleaching agents at low levels that remove intrinsic stains. These bleaching compounds are released from the pen’s tip when pressed against the teeth. They may be more effective than whitening strips because you ensure each tooth is fully coated.
Most whitening pens take a few weeks of continual use to work.
Whitening mouth rinses contain low levels of compounds that bleach teeth and remove intrinsic stains. Rinse your mouth with a whitening mouthwash twice daily to see improvements.
Whitening gels contain low levels of bleaching agents that remove intrinsic stains. You normally apply them using a small brush.
Whitening gels may be more effective than strips because you can coat each tooth fully, similar to whitening pens.
Most people have to use them regularly for a few weeks to notice a difference.
Light emitting diode (LED) whitening kits use devices that emit blue lights. These lights enhance the bleaching effects of whitening gels. They might provide faster, longer-lasting changes in tooth color than whitening products alone.
A dental professional can make you a whitening tray to use at home. These trays are custom-fit to ensure the whitening gel reaches all of your teeth while reducing contact with the gingiva (gums). You can often do routine activities while wearing them.
Professional whitening gels found in dentist-made whitening trays contain much higher levels of bleaching agents than OTC products. How long you need to use at-home professional whitening trays depends on the gel’s concentration of bleaching agents.
A dentist can remove extrinsic or intrinsic tooth discoloration with a few different methods. Professional tooth whitening is more effective than OTC products. These treatments also tend to take much less time to work.
Professional tooth-whitening options include:
See NewMouth’s top 10 teeth whitening products of 2022.
There are several things you can do to prevent tooth stains, before or after teeth-whitening.
Tips for preventing tooth stains include:
Tooth discoloration or stains can occur on the surfaces of teeth (extrinsic stains) or inside of teeth (intrinsic stains).
Several at-home products such as toothpastes, chewing gums, strips, gels, and pens can help remove tooth stains slowly over time. When purchasing OTC whitening options, look for products with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance.
Professional whitening treatments tend to be more effective and take less time to work.
It is always important to consult your dentist to see if you’re a good candidate for OTC or professional whitening treatments.
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