Many people have discoloured teeth with stains on the surface. This discolouration is either extrinsic, intrinsic or age related.
Extrinsic stains - occur when the outer layer of the tooth called enamel is stained. These stains are usually caused by use of coffee, wine, soda or other drinks and foods that can stain teeth. Smoking is another substance that leads to staining of teeth.
Intrinsic stains - occur when the inner structure of the tooth called the dentine darkens or gets a yellow tint. You can get this type of discoloration if:
• Your mother used tetracycline antibiotics during pregnancy.
• You used tetracycline antibiotics when you were eight years old or younger.
• You had trauma that affected a tooth when you were a young child. A fall, for example, may damage the developing permanent tooth.
• You had trauma in a permanent tooth, and internal bleeding discoloured the tooth.
• You were born with a rare condition called Dentinogenesis Imperfecta. This causes grey or purple discolourations.
• You had too much exposure to fluoride products during early childhood.
Age related - this is a combination of both extrinsic and intrinsic factors where the dentine naturally turns yellow over time. This happens when the enamel that covers the teeth gets thinner with age, which allows the dentine to show through.
Brushing your teeth after every meal will help to prevent some stains. We recommend that you rinse your mouth with water after having wine, coffee or other drinks or foods that can stain your teeth. Regular professional cleanings by a dentist also helps to remove surface stains. Intrinsic stains that are caused by damage to a nerve or blood vessel in a tooth sometimes can be prevented. You may need to have root canal treatment to remove the inner part of the tooth (the pulp) before it has a chance to decay and darken.
However, teeth that have root canal treatment may at times darken.
To prevent intrinsic stains in children, avoid early exposure to fluorides and tetracycline products.
Many extrinsic stains caused by smoking, foods and drinks can be removed by regular cleanings at the dental office.
Good home care like brushing, flossing and rinsing after meals can help. Whitening toothpastes may remove minor stains. For intrinsic stains, teeth whitening can be used or considering having a crown or a veneer.
Visit a dentist for proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
The writer is a dentist