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 discoloration

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

1. Extrinsic Discoloration

Extrinsic staining, sometimes called external staining, is staining on the surface of a tooth. 

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

1. Natural Remedies (& 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
  • Oil pulling, which is used to remove bacteria that can turn into plaque and cause teeth yellowing
  • 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 avoid using excessive hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, which can lead to gum irritation, tooth sensitivity, and enamel erosion. Instead, you should use products specifically designed for whitening teeth. 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 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.

GLO Brilliant LED Teeth Whitening Kit

This patented teeth whitening kit combines LED light and Guided Light Optics (GLO) warming heat technology to accelerate the hydrogen peroxide whitening process for faster, easier, and more effective whitening.

The GLO teeth whitening system lets you whiten both top and bottom teeth simultaneously in just 8 minutes. 

glo brilliant kit

GLO is FDA-registered. The whitening gel is vegan, gluten/latex/cruelty-free, and made in the USA.

Cost: $199

Auraglow LED Teeth Whitening Kit

This teeth whitening kit comes with trays and a LED light to whiten both the top and bottom teeth. Auraglow's whitening gel features 35 percent carbamide peroxide, close to the level of whitening agent used in dental offices.

AuraGlow Teeth Whitening Kit, LED Light

Cost: $59.99

Snow LED Teeth Whitening Kit

Snow delivers a professional-level whitening experience that’s enamel-safe for those with sensitive teeth and gums. 

snow all in one teeth whitening kit

Each application of Snow takes only 9 minutes, and most users get a whiter smile after just one use.

Cost: $149 to $200

Colgate Optic White At-Home Teeth Whitening Kit

This teeth whitening kit uses LED blue light to activate a hydrogen peroxide gel that’s applied to the teeth via a rechargeable tray. 

This tooth whitening system was designed to whiten teeth without sensitivity.

colgate led teeth whitening kit

Each application takes only 10 minutes, and most users see results after ten days.

Cost: $129

LED teeth whitening is safe and effective when users follow the manufacturer's protocols. Before using any of these teeth whitening options, consult with a dental professional to make sure it’s right for you. 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. 

Primal Life Light Activated Teeth Whitening System

This teeth whitening system uses both red and blue LED lights to soothe gum tissue and whiten the appearance of teeth. Primal Life’s peroxide-free gel is made with extra virgin olive oil, essential oils, and clays to brighten your pearly whites.

This teeth whitener is cordless and takes only 15 minutes a day to whiten teeth.

Cost: $59 to $79

primal life real white

Cali White Vegan LED Teeth Whitening Kit

This vegan teeth whitening kit is made in the USA with kosher, gluten-free, and organic ingredients. This kit is easy-to-use and offers professional results in as fast as one treatment. With the Cali White Vegan Teeth Whitening Kit, users can experience a whiter smile in 7 days.

Cost: $34.99

cali white teeth whitening kit

Lumineux Oral Essentials Teeth Whitening Kit

Lumineux’s Oral Essentials is the first-ever certified non-toxic, microbiome-safe, and clinically-proven teeth whitening regimen on the market. 

This kit uses a vegan whitening gel made of potent oils to break up stains for smoother, cleaner, and brighter-looking teeth without stripping enamel or causing sensitivity.

Cost: $45.00

limuneux teeth whitening kit

4. Professional Teeth Whitening Treatment

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

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 course 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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