Updated on March 12, 2024
6 min read

How to Remove, Counteract & Prevent Teeth Stains

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Key Takeaways

  • 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. 
  • Professional whitening treatments tend to be more effective and take less time to work.
  • It’s always important to consult your dentist to see if you’re a good candidate for OTC or professional whitening treatments.

Get your brightest smile with NewMouth's top teeth whitening picks for 2024.

Types of Tooth Stains and Their Causes

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 Stains

Extrinsic stains (also called surface stains) develop when colored compounds accumulate on the tooth’s outer surface. The hard outer layer of teeth is called enamel.

Brown Stain on teeth 3D Render

Most extrinsic stains occur due to environmental factors or behaviors, such as:

  • Tobacco
  • Metal salts like copper or iron
  • Highly pigmented foods, certain fruits (e.g., blueberries and blackberries), dark chocolate, and drinks such as cola, tea, coffee, and red wine
  • Antiseptic mouthwashes or rinses for a prolonged time

Intrinsic Stains

Intrinsic stains develop inside teeth, often inside the enamel or dentin, the layer under the enamel. Dentin contains microscopic hollow tubes that are connected to a tooth’s nerve.

Brown Stain on the lower part of teeth and borderline of the gums due to dental problems

Intrinsic tooth stains occur due to:

  • Systemic (whole-body) disorders such as genetic diseases like amelogenesis or dentinogenesis imperfecta (DI)
  • Factors impacting the surrounding area when teeth develop or erupt through the gums
  • Certain antibiotics during childhood or pregnancy, such as tetracycline.
  • Attrition, cavities, or necrosis (tissue death)
  • Pupal bleeding, where pulp, a bundle of connective tissue found in the center of the tooth beneath the dentin, bleeds
  • Fillings that restore teeth after cavities develop (e.g., amalgam fillings can leach into the nearby tooth structure, causing a gray coloration)

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.

4 Ways to Whiten Your Teeth at Home

You can do many things at home to achieve whiter teeth without visiting the dentist’s office. Most treatments contain hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.

Think of teeth-whitening products as an exfoliating face wash; they both are abrasive and remove the surface layer of either tooth or skin. 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.

Dr. Khushbu Aggarwal, one of NewMouth’s in-house dentists.

1. Whitening Strips

Over-the-counter (OTC) whitening strips brighten stained teeth quickly and effectively. They are applied directly to the teeth.

Typically, you will apply the strips twice daily for 30 minutes for 14 days. These strips are relatively inexpensive and usually whiten teeth one to two shades.

2. LED Whitening Kits

LED whitening kits apply a whitening agent directly to the teeth with a brush. Then, the blue LED light is turned on to activate the whitening agent. The blue light causes a chemical reaction, allowing the whitening agent to safely bleach teeth.

Many brands suggest using LED kits for 8 to 30 minutes for several days. However, all kits have different application times. Always read through the instructions and follow them.

3. Whitening Toothpaste and Mouthwash

Whitening toothpastes have higher amounts of abrasives and detergents than standard toothpastes. They typically lighten tooth color by one or two shades.

Whitening toothpaste and mouthwash are designed to be used at least twice daily over long periods. Whitening mouthwashes can take up to 3 months to improve tooth color. 4

4. Whitening Trays and Gels

This method involves using a fitted tray containing carbamide peroxide gel. The trays are worn for 30 minutes to 2 hours a day or overnight, depending on the instructions.5 

Gels can also be applied directly to teeth using a pen instrument with a brush applicator.

4 Professional Treatments for Whiter Teeth

Sometimes, at-home treatments aren’t enough to achieve your desired results. Here are some other, more powerful options:

1. In-Office Whitening

Professional whitening treatments contain higher concentrations of the bleaching agent, typically hydrogen peroxide.

Dentists also provide gum protection to prevent sensitivity associated with whitening. Treatments usually take between 30 and 60 minutes, and results are instant.4

Remember that professional whitening costs between $500 and $1,000 per treatment. But upkeep is minimal (once or twice a year).

2. Laser Teeth Whitening

Some dental professionals may use a laser to heat the whitening gel. This increases the rate of the chemical reaction, allowing the gel to work more quickly. 

Research on the effectiveness of lasers in dental procedures is ongoing, but they are generally considered safe for tooth whitening.6

3. Teeth Cleanings and Polishing

Routine teeth cleanings are recommended to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Regular scaling and polishing can remove extrinsic stains. These are stains on the surfaces of teeth. This treatment also provides an excellent base for any whitening treatment.

4. Veneers

Veneers are a great option if you have tooth stains that whitening can’t remove. These thin shells fit over the front of teeth and effectively hide stains and discoloration. They are also used to restore damaged teeth.

How to Prevent Tooth Stains

The most effective way to prevent staining is to take good care of your teeth and eat a balanced diet. More specifically, to keep your teeth white long-term, incorporate these tips into your lifestyle:

  • Get professional teeth cleanings every six months
  • Don’t eat sugary junk food
  • Brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day before bed
  • Limit your intake of staining products like soda, red wine, tea, coffee, foods with dyes, etc.
  • Use whitening toothpaste and mouthwash a few times per week
  • Whiten your teeth with over-the-counter or professional products (as needed)
  • Do not use tobacco products
  • Rinse your mouth with water after drinking or eating food that can stain your teeth 

Precautions and Considerations

Always remember to speak to a dentist before using over-the-counter products. 

Understand that teeth whitening doesn’t work for everyone. Each person’s results depend on their tooth condition and the product they use.

Tooth whitening is generally safe if you follow the product’s instructions and check with your dentist. However, possible side effects of the whitening process include:

  • Tooth sensitivity — Sensitive teeth are the most common reaction to teeth whitening methods. You may notice more sensitivity to temperatures when eating and drinking. Consult your dentist if it lasts longer than a few days.
  • Gum irritation — The bleaching agent in some tooth whiteners may irritate your gums. Stop using any teeth whitening products that bother your gums, and reach out to your doctor.
  • Uneven or overdone whitening — If you don’t use the product correctly when whitening teeth, the brightness may be uneven. It’s also possible to ‘over whiten’ your teeth by using too much of a product, making it look unnatural.

If you experience any of these, stop whitening your teeth and contact your dentist.

Last updated on March 12, 2024
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on March 12, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Tooth whitening.” American Dental Association. 
  2. Whitening.” American Dental Association.
  3. Is There a Link Between UV Light Teeth Whitening and Cancer?” Dental Health Society. 
  4. Hayward et al. “A Clinical Study of the Effectiveness of a Light Emitting Diode System on Tooth Bleaching.” The Open Dentistry Journal.
  5. Teeth whitening.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. 
  6. Caries.” Merck Manual.
  7. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Anatomy, head and neck, pulp (tooth).
  8. Sawai, M.A. “Tooth polishing: The current status.” Indian Society of Periodontology.
  9. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Dental amalgam fillings.
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