Dentistry
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Updated on September 30, 2022

How to Prevent, Counteract & Remove Tooth Stains

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Teeth-Staining & Types of Treatments

If you want 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.

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.

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What Causes Tooth Discoloration?

Tooth discoloration can be attributed to various factors, including lifestyle habits, dental health issues, and natural aging.

1. External Stains (Extrinsic Discoloration)

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

This also occurs with tobacco use, especially smoking. External stains that are not removed consistently become deeply embedded in the hard tooth structure, making them more difficult to remove. 

You must avoid these dark-colored substances to prevent external stains from accumulating on the teeth.

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.

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. 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 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, making it thinner, weaker, and translucent. Avoid acidic drinks like sodas, sparkling water, fruit juices, beer, and wine to prevent this.

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

Clenching and/or 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.

Only use soft toothbrushes, and ask your dentist for toothpaste recommendations.

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

4 Ways to Whiten Your Teeth at Home

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

1. Whitening Strips

Over-the-counter (OTC) whitening strips brighten 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

With LED whitening kits, a whitening agent is applied 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 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 get the results you are looking for. 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 quicker. 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 

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.

Summary

It’s simple to prevent stains, but most people don’t consider it worth the trouble of avoiding their favorite substances. Fortunately, many at-home whitening products can help counteract stains, including toothpaste, mouthwash, strips, and LED kits.

Speak to your dentist before you try any over-the-counter products. Teeth whitening doesn’t work for everyone, and deeper stains often require professional treatment. Results depend on your unique circumstances and level of tooth discoloration.

9 Sources Cited
Last updated on September 30, 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).
  1. Carey, Clifton M. “Tooth whitening: what we now know.” The journal of evidence-based dental practice vol. 14 Suppl : 70-6. doi:10.1016/j.jebdp.2014.02.006 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4058574/.
  2. “GLO Brilliant Teeth Whitening Device.” GLO Science, GLO Science, https://gloscience.com/products/glo-brilliant-personal-teeth-whitening-device.
  3. Markowitz, Kenneth. “Pretty Painful: Why Does Tooth Bleaching Hurt?” Medical Hypotheses, vol. 74, no. 5, 2010, pp. 835–840, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306987709008019?via%3Dihub.
  4. Perdigão Jorge. Tooth Whitening: an Evidence-Based Perspective. Springer, 2016.
  5. Patil, PA, et al. “Comparison of Effectiveness of Abrasive and Enzymatic Action of Whitening Toothpastes in Removal of Extrinsic Stains – a Clinical Trial.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 21 July 2014, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/idh.12090.
  6. “SNOW® AT-HOME TEETH WHITENING ALL-IN-ONE KIT.” TrySnow.com, Snow Cosmetics LLC, www.trysnow.com/pages/snow-teeth-whitening-kit-special-offer.
  7. “Teeth Whitening Kit.” AuraGlow, AuraGlow, http://auraglow.com/products/teeth-whitening-kit/.
  8. “Tooth Discoloration: Causes, Treatment & Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10958-tooth-discoloration.
  9. “Whitening: 5 Things to Know About Getting a Brighter Smile.” Mouth Healthy TM, https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/w/whitening.
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