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How to Prevent, Counteract & Remove Teeth Stains

Alyssa Hill Headshot
Written by
Alyssa Hill
Medically Reviewed by 
Dr. Lara Coseo
9 Sources Cited

Overview: Teeth Stains & Treatment Types

If you are looking to brighten your smile, there are effective products available through your dentist that provide fast, noticeable whitening results. However, these treatments are expensive and time-consuming.

teeth discoloration

Fortunately, there are some easy ways to whiten your teeth at home, including:

  • LED teeth whitening kits
  • Over-the-counter whitening products
  • Whitening strips and gels
  • Whitening pens
  • Whitening toothpaste and mouthwash

These products are inexpensive and more convenient than professional teeth whitening but require extra upkeep.

What Causes Teeth Stains?

Our teeth gradually become more yellow over time. A small part of that yellowing process is a natural effect of aging, but the majority of it results from three causes:

1. External Stains (Extrinsic Discoloration)

The most common cause of yellowing teeth is the buildup of external stains. Over time, as you eat and drink dark-colored foods and beverages, your teeth accumulate dark pigments.

This also occurs with tobacco use, especially smoking. External stains that are not removed on a consistent basis become deeply embedded in the hard tooth structure, which makes them more difficult to remove. 

In order to prevent external stains from accumulating on the teeth, you must avoid these dark-colored substances.

To reduce external teeth stains, limit your intake of:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Dark sodas
  • Red wine
  • Tobacco
  • Other dark-pigmented substances

If you never eat, drink, smoke, or chew anything dark, your teeth will stay relatively white in color.

2. Intrinsic Discoloration

Intrinsic discoloration forms within your teeth. Causes of intrinsic discoloration include:

  • Certain medications (antibiotics like tetracycline and doxycycline)
  • Natural aging
  • Diseases that prevent normal tooth development 
  • Medical treatments like chemotherapy and radiation
  • Cavities
  • Fluorosis (white spots on teeth caused by too much fluoride)
  • Silver dental restorations 
  • Tooth trauma (that causes reduced blood flow to teeth)
  • Genetics

3. Thinning Enamel

Enamel is the only structure in a tooth that is naturally white in color. Even in its most natural state, it is just an off-white color.

The underlying core structure of the tooth is dentin, which is softer and yellower than enamel. As enamel thins, more of the dentin shows through, causing the teeth to appear yellow.

There are several causes of thinning enamel, all of which can be prevented. You have to take preventive measures against the cause itself. These include:

Acid Erosion

Acidic pH substances are enamel’s kryptonite. They slowly dissolve the enamel, leaving it thinner, weaker, and more translucent. To prevent this, avoid acidic drinks like sodas, sparkling water, fruit juices, beer, and wine.

See your doctor to treat any problems with acid reflux and dry mouth (your saliva is a base and counteracts damage from acids).

Attrition from Clenching & Grinding Teeth

The heavy forces and friction of nighttime clenching and/or grinding lead to a gradual wearing-away of enamel. This is preventable by wearing a protective nightguard to separate and protect the teeth.

Abrasion From Harsh Oral Care Products

Some people feel that using hard toothbrushes and extremely abrasive toothpaste will lead to cleaner teeth. Unfortunately, it will also lead to abrasion or mechanical removal of enamel over time.

Make sure to always use only soft toothbrushes, and ask your dentist for toothpaste recommendations.

People with gum recession, root exposure, and already-thin enamel should stay away from whitening toothpaste, which is abrasive.

How to Counteract Teeth Stains

You can counteract the process of teeth staining with routine maintenance of your smile.

This involves regularly polishing and protecting your enamel. To do this, it takes both professional dental care and home care.

Professional Dental Care

In order to maintain healthy, strong, smooth enamel, you must see a dental hygienist for professional teeth cleanings on a consistent basis. Most people need these cleanings twice a year, but some require them more frequently.

The cleaning itself removes acid-producing bacteria and superficial stains. It also includes a final polishing, which leaves the enamel smoother and more resistant to new stains.

If you tend to have weak enamel, your professional dental care should include an application of fluoride, which hardens and strengthens enamel, fighting erosion, staining, and cavities.

Proper At-Home Oral Care

At home, you should make sure you are practicing good oral hygiene. To improve your brushing’s ability to counteract stains, use an electric toothbrush and a whitening toothpaste (with your dentist’s approval). These two, used together, produce whiter teeth.

You should also work to counteract staining from any dark substances by rinsing with water afterward. If you drink multiple cups of coffee in the morning, drink a glass of water after each cup to flush away loose stains and neutralize your mouth.

How to Remove Teeth Stains

To remove deep stains that will not polish away, you have to turn to teeth whitening. For the fastest and most noticeable results, you should see your dentist for professional products and procedures. 

If you’d like to whiten them at home, there are many over-the-counter products that do work.

Here are two tips for achieving a whitening result with OTC products:

  1. Check the active ingredients. Make sure the product you select contains either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the main ingredient. These are the only chemicals available for true teeth whitening because they penetrate your tooth enamel and break down dark-colored pigments within the teeth.
  2. Consider the application method and choose one that will keep the active ingredient in close contact with your teeth for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t think you can keep it on your teeth for an extended period of time, look for a different method of application. It takes time for whitening to work.

Best At-Home Tooth Discoloration Treatments

If you want whiter teeth, you don't have to cut out your favorite foods and drinks. There are many effective teeth whitening products to choose from today. From whitening strips to all-in-one LED whitening kits, you can lighten your teeth quickly from the comfort of home. 

The following products contain either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the main ingredient. This means they are highly effective at whitening teeth. They are also available at a fraction of the cost of professional whitening treatments.

Whitening strips, gels, toothpaste, and mouthwash are also available. These treatments are inexpensive but require more upkeep than LED whitening kits.

How to Prevent Teeth 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 

Also, eat more vegetables, pineapple, dairy products, nuts, seeds, onions, carrots, and celery. All of these foods have been shown to improve tooth brightness and strength.

What’s the Takeaway?

It’s simple to prevent stains, but most people don’t consider it worth the trouble of avoiding their favorite substances.

You can also counteract the staining and remove it with whitening if the idea of skipping your coffee sounds absurd.

Last updated on April 25, 2022
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 25, 2022
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).
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