Teeth Stains

erica medical reviewer
Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
Kyra Wilians
Written by
Kyra Wilians
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Evidence Based
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13 sources cited
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What are Teeth Stains (Tooth Discoloration)?

Teeth stains are marks on the teeth that are not easily removed with a toothbrush. Teeth stains come in a variety of colors, including yellow, white, brown, green, and purple.

Teeth stains are caused by various factors, including certain foods and drinks, poor oral hygiene, genetics, and medications. Teeth staining occurs on the surfaces of teeth (extrinsic) or below the enamel (intrinsic).

While teeth stains are primarily an aesthetic concern, they can be a source of embarrassment, leading to reduced self-esteem.

How Common is Tooth Discoloration? 

Most people develop some degree of tooth discoloration at some point during their lives, especially as they age and the body’s natural chemistry affects the color of their teeth. Tooth discoloration is one of the most common reasons why patients visit the dentist.

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. 


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Extrinsic staining is caused by environmental factors, including:

  • Smoking
  • Pigments in beverages and foods
  • Antibiotics
  • Metals (such as iron or copper)

Extrinsic staining occurs when colored compounds from these sources are absorbed into the surfaces of teeth.

Common foods that cause extrinsic tooth discoloration include: 

  • Black tea or coffee
  • Wines, both red and white
  • Dark-colored foods such as beets or chocolate 
  • Berries
  • Popsicles
  • Candies 
  • Pickles
  • Soy sauce
  • Curries
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Kombucha

2. Intrinsic Discoloration

Intrinsic staining, sometimes called internal staining, is staining that is embedded inside a tooth rather than on the surface of a tooth.

Intrinsic staining is caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Genetics
  • Age (from enamel wear over time exposing dentin)
  • Tetracycline and other antibiotics
  • Trauma
  • Ingesting high levels of fluoride
  • Developmental disorders
  • Chemotherapy
  • Medical conditions, such as pulpal necrosis

Teeth with intrinsic stains often appear grayish. Intrinsic staining cannot be easily removed with a professional cleaning or teeth whitening. It requires a dental restoration like a veneer or crown or internal bleaching. 

3. Age-Related Discoloration

Age-related discoloration includes both intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) tooth discoloration. 

A few intrinsic factors cause age-related tooth discoloration. For example, the core tissue of the teeth, the dentin, yellows over time. As we age, the enamel on teeth surfaces becomes thinner, allowing the dentin to show through. 

Also, as we age, extrinsic factors (e.g., dark-pigmented foods, drinks, and tobacco) are more likely to cause discoloration if preventative measures aren’t taken and whitening treatments aren’t used.

What Causes Tooth Stains (By Color)?

Yellow Stains

Common factors that cause yellow teeth stains include:

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

Brown Stains

Common factors that cause brown teeth stains include:

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

Purple Stains

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

Common factors that cause white spots or stains on the teeth include: 

  • Dental caries (cavities) 
  • Fluorosis (excessive fluoride use)

4 Ways to Remove Teeth Stains

Here are some ways that will help remove teeth stains.

1. Good Oral Health (& What Not To Do)

Common natural remedies used to remove teeth stains include:

  • Using an over-the-counter whitening toothpaste or mouthwash that contains hydrogen peroxide or baking soda, which help kill bacteria and whiten teeth
  • Using whitening strips, toothpaste, and mouthwashes that contain essential oils and botanicals
  • Using a mouthwash that contains chlorhexidine, which decreases bacteria in the mouth
  • Eating fibrous, crunchy fruits and vegetables, which remove plaque
  • Eating strawberries and pineapple, which contain malic acid and bromelain, which help remove stains
  • Brushing your teeth after consuming dark-colored, highly acidic, or sugary foods or beverages
  • Adding calcium to your diet, which protects teeth from enamel erosion
  • Brushing and flossing twice daily
  • Attending regular dental checkups

You should use products specifically designed for whitening teeth. Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide are the safest and most effective whitening ingredients. However, some people do not consider these ingredients "natural."

When using home whitening mouthwash or toothpaste, always make sure to read the product instructions beforehand. Before using natural remedies for teeth stains, consult a general dentist to avoid causing damage to your teeth.

2. At-Home LED Teeth Whitening Kits

LED teeth whitening is a whitening method that uses a blue LED light and hydrogen peroxide to bleach teeth. Combined with a bleaching agent, the blue LED light causes a chemical reaction that whitens the teeth quickly and effectively.

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. 

These products will not give you the same whitening effects as hydrogen peroxide treatments.

4. Professional Teeth Whitening Treatment

Professional teeth whitening is performed in-office by a licensed dentist.


LED whitening kits, teeth whitening strips, whitening toothpastes, mouthwashes & professional treatment:

Find out which teeth whitening methods are the safest and most effective.


During professional teeth whitening treatment, your dentist will apply a hydrogen peroxide solution. They may or may not use heat or a special light to accelerate the bleaching process.

Professional teeth whitening is an expensive option with an average cost of $650, but it may be necessary for individuals with very discolored teeth.

Professional teeth whitening is best for most people with permanent teeth and good oral health. Dentists will use a special barrier to protect your gum tissue from burns or irritation. 

Tooth-colored fillings, crowns, and caps are not able to be whitened like natural teeth. This treatment also works well for anyone with stubborn, yellow stains. Brown teeth may not respond as well, and teeth with gray tones may not bleach at all. 

Professional teeth whitening is safe in the hands of a skilled dentist. Your dentist can tell you whether professional teeth whitening is right for you.

How to Prevent Stained Teeth

To avoid extrinsic teeth stains, brush your teeth after eating foods that can cause discoloration, brush your teeth twice daily, and floss at least once a day.

Other ways to keep your teeth white include: 

  • 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 regular dental cleanings twice a year
  • Use over-the-counter whitening products a few times a week
  • Eat coarse and leafy vegetables which help scrub away surface stains

Resources

Carey, Clifton M. “Tooth whitening: what we now know.” The journal of evidence-based dental practice vol. 14 Suppl (2014): 70-6. doi:10.1016/j.jebdp.2014.02.006 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4058574/ 

“Dental Erosion.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, 30 Nov. 2014, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dental-erosion 

“Dentinogenesis Imperfecta: MedlinePlus Genetics.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Aug. 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/dentinogenesis-imperfecta/#:~:text=Description&text=Dentinogenesis%20imperfecta%20is%20a%20disorder,wear%2C%20breakage%2C%20and%20loss.

Lader, H. Meltzer, et al. “Smoking and Tooth Discolouration: Findings from a National Cross-Sectional Study.” BMC Public Health, BioMed Central, 1 Jan. 1970, https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-5-27

Gbadebo, Shakeerah O, and Deborah Mojirade Ajayi. “SELF REPORTED TOOTH DISCOLORATIONS AMONG PATIENTS SEEN AT DENTAL CENTER UNIVERSITY COLLEGE HOSPITAL IBADAN.” Journal of the West African College of Surgeons vol. 5,3 (2015): 66-77. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5036264/#:~:text=Prevalence%20of%20reported%20tooth%20discolouration,%25)%20offered%20for%20tooth%20discoloration. 

“Factors Causing Tooth Discoloration.” Oral Health Care Zone for Grown-Ups, www.toothclub.gov.hk/en/en_adu_01_05_02_02.html 

Freeman, Amy. “How Much Does Teeth Whitening Cost?” Bankrate, www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/smart-money/how-much-does-teeth-whitening-cost/#:~:text=The%20average%20cost%20of%20in,office%20teeth%20whitening%20pays%20off 

Haralur, Satheesh B. “Effect of Age on Tooth Shade, Skin Color and Skin-Tooth Color Interrelationship in Saudi Arabian Subpopulation.” Journal of international oral health : JIOH vol. 7,8 (2015): 33-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4588786/ 

“How to Whiten Yellow Teeth Using Natural Remedies at Home?” India Today, Living Media India Limited, 19 Oct. 2020, www.indiatoday.in/information/story/how-to-whiten-yellow-teeth-using-natural-remedies-at-home-1733161-2020-10-19 

Karadas, Muhammet, and Nilgun Seven. “The effect of different drinks on tooth color after home bleaching.” European journal of dentistry vol. 8,2 (2014): 249-253. doi:10.4103/1305-7456.130622 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4054058/ 

“Tooth Discoloration: Causes, Treatment & Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10958-tooth-discoloration

“What Causes Discolored Teeth and Is There Any Way to Cure or Prevent Staining?” Tufts Now, Tufts University, 18 Mar. 2016, https://now.tufts.edu/articles/what-causes-discolored-teeth-and-there-any-way-cure-or-prevent-staining

“Whitening: 5 Things to Know About Getting a Brighter Smile.” Mouth Healthy TM, American Dental Association, www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/w/whitening

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