Updated on March 12, 2024
5 min read

Teeth Stains: Types, Causes, & Removal

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What are Teeth Stains (Tooth Discoloration)?

Teeth stains are discolorations of the teeth that a toothbrush can’t easily remove. They can look yellow, white, brown, green, and purple.

Many people develop some type of tooth stain at some point. Discoloration can affect the surface (extrinsic) or the interior of the teeth (intrinsic), depending on various factors, including:

  • Your habits
  • Environment
  • Genetics

Though they can be a source of embarrassment, tooth stains typically aren’t harmful.

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3 Types of Tooth Discoloration

There are three types of tooth discoloration, which include:

1. Extrinsic Discoloration

Extrinsic staining, sometimes called external staining, is staining on the surface of a tooth. It occurs when tinted residue builds up on your teeth, commonly from tobacco use or dark foods and beverages such as:

  • Black tea or coffee
  • Wines
  • Popsicles and candy
  • Soy sauce
  • Tomato sauce
  • Sodas
  • Blueberries
Brown Stain on teeth 3D Render

Avoiding smoking and excessive consumption of these foods can help prevent extrinsic staining. However, some environmental factors may also contribute to extrinsic staining, including antibiotics and metals such as iron or copper.

2. Intrinsic Discoloration

Intrinsic or internal staining occurs when pigmented particles seep under the tooth’s surface. If allowed to accumulate in the enamel, they will cause discoloration.

3d tooth comparisons of a yellowish extrinsic tooth stain vs a healthy white tooth

Intrinsic stains are commonly found in children and people who use excessive fluoride. Other factors may also influence it, including:

  • Genetic conditions, such as dentinogenesis imperfecta and amelogenesis imperfecta
  • Tetracycline and other antibiotics
  • Trauma
  • Developmental disorders
  • Chemotherapy
  • Medical conditions, such as pulpal necrosis

Removing intrinsic staining goes beyond professional cleaning or teeth whitening. It requires a dental restoration like a veneer, crown, or internal bleaching. 

3. Age-Related Discoloration

The core tissue of the teeth, known as dentin, yellows over time. As you age, the enamel on teeth surfaces becomes thinner, allowing the dentin to show through.

A combined accumulation of intrinsic and extrinsic causes of discoloration will result in teeth staining in older adults. Without prevention or treatment, extrinsic factors are more likely to cause discoloration in older people.

4 Ways to Remove Teeth Stains

There are several ways you can alleviate tooth discoloration, including:

1. Practice Good Oral Hygiene

You can often decrease tooth staining by keeping your mouth clean and healthy. The best practices for oral hygiene to remove stains are:

  • Clean your teeth daily – Brush and floss twice daily, 30 minutes after consuming dark, acidic, or sugary foods or beverages, to avoid damaging the tooth’s enamel
  • Visit your dentist routinely – Dentists recommend a professional dental cleaning every six months
  • Rinse with mouthwash – Choose a mouthwash that has antibacterial and antiplaque properties
  • Eat a healthy diet – Eating fibrous, crunchy fruits and vegetables may remove plaque and reduce discoloration and erosion
  • Try whitening products – Use whitening products that contain hydrogen peroxide or baking soda, which help kill bacteria and whiten teeth

2. At-Home LED Teeth Whitening Kits

LED teeth whitening uses a blue LED light and hydrogen peroxide to bleach teeth. These two elements can cause a chemical reaction that quickly and effectively whitens teeth.

NewMouth recommends at-home LED whitening kits over other teeth whitening methods because of their effectiveness, ease of use, and minimal side effects.

LED teeth whitening is safe and effective when users follow the manufacturer’s protocols. After you whiten at home, avoid drinks that cause stains, particularly red wine, tea, and dark sodas.

3. Natural Teeth Whitening Products

Natural teeth whitening products use all-natural ingredients (such as essential oils and botanicals) to whiten the teeth. They don’t contain toxins, peroxide, artificial ingredients, or alcohol.

Some natural remedies for tooth whitening include:

  • Baking soda
  • Charcoal whitening products
  • Oil pulling

Many natural treatments have limited evidence supporting their effectiveness and can have adverse side effects. Always talk to your dentist before trying a DIY or natural whitening treatment.

4. Professional Teeth Whitening Treatment

A licensed dentist can perform professional teeth whitening in their office. Professional teeth whitening involves a hydrogen peroxide solution and heat or light to accelerate the process.

It has an average cost of $650, which can be expensive. However, professional teeth whitening is the most effective treatment for intrinsic staining and highly discolored teeth.

How to Prevent Stained Teeth

The best way to prevent extrinsic tooth stains is to avoid smoking and practice excellent oral hygiene, especially after consuming dark foods and beverages.

Other ways to keep your teeth white include: 

  • Brush twice and floss once daily
  • Avoid smoking or using tobacco 
  • Limit consumption of staining substances like coffee, tea, red wine, dark berries, and curry powder
  • Limit or avoid sugary foods and drinks
  • Get a professional dental cleaning every six months
  • Use over-the-counter whitening products a few times a week
  • Eat coarse and leafy vegetables, which help scrub away surface stains

Tooth Stain Causes by Color

Tooth stains come in many colors, each with its common causes. If your teeth are stained, you can usually determine the cause based on the color.

Yellow Stains

Yellow stains often come from lifestyle choices, such as tobacco use and a sugar-heavy diet.

Common factors that cause yellow teeth stains include:

  • Smoking or using chewing tobacco 
  • Beverages like tea, coffee, and red wine
  • A diet high in simple sugars
  • Certain medications
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Chronic dry mouth

Brown Stains

Brown stains may occur from lifestyle factors or poor oral hygiene. If you have brown discoloration on your teeth, it could be from:

  • Tobacco use
  • Beverages like tea, coffee, cola, and red wine
  • Untreated tooth decay
  • Tartar buildup

Purple Stains

Though they can come from what you eat or drink, purple stains may also have a more concerning underlying cause.

Common factors that cause purple teeth stains include:

  • Habitual wine consumption
  • Internal bleeding caused by trauma
  • Frequent consumption of pigmented fruit like blueberries and pomegranates
  • A rare condition called dentinogenesis imperfecta

White Stains

White stains or spots on the teeth may be a sign of early decay. They can also come from excessive fluoride use.

You should consult a dentist if you have white stains on your teeth.


Tooth stains are discolorations of the teeth that you can’t brush away. It’s common to have tooth stains, especially as you age. They typically aren’t harmful.

The three types of tooth discoloration are extrinsic (on the tooth’s surface), intrinsic (below the surface), and age-related. The causes for these stains include consumption of dark food and beverages, tobacco use, medications, and genetics.

You can prevent and remove stains by quitting smoking and practicing good oral hygiene. If your teeth are already stained, use at-home whitening products or visit your dentist for professional teeth whitening.

Last updated on March 12, 2024
11 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).
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  11. What Causes Discolored Teeth and Is There Any Way to Cure or Prevent Staining?” Tufts Now, Tufts University, 3016.
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