What factors can cause teeth to stain?
The color and appearance of a tooth's stain is typically characteristic of that factor that has caused it.
What colors of tooth staining can each of them cause?
Factors that can cause tooth discoloration and staining.
1) Tetracycline (and related antibiotics)
Tooth discoloration caused by tetracycline is typically blue-grey (or possibly yellow-brown) in color. [Details about tooth stain caused by tetracycline and related antibiotics.]
2) Fluoride (Fluorosis)
Fluorosis typically takes the appearance of chalky-white (or possibly brown) spots, patches or lines dispersed across a tooth's surface. [Details about tooth stain caused by inappropriate fluoride ingestion (fluorosis).]
3) Foods / Drinks / Consumables (Tea, coffee, cola, wine, tobacco)
Chromogenic agents contained in the products we consume can cause generalized yellow, brown or even orange tooth staining. [Details about coffee, cola, tea, wine and tobacco products and tooth staining.]
4) Age-related tooth staining
It is commonplace that a person's teeth will take on a yellow or brown coloration (with associated tooth dinginess and darkening) as they age. [Details about age-related tooth staining.]
5) Genetic factors
The natural baseline color of many people's teeth is more yellow, brown or gray than others simply due to inherited genetic factors. [Details about variations in tooth baseline coloration.]
6) Poor oral hygiene / Tooth decay
Tooth decay, or even just having inadequate brushing and flossing habits, can result in white, gray, brown, black, yellow, or possibly even green tooth stains. [More about white spot tooth stains caused improper oral home care.]
7) Deteriorated dental restorations
Deteriorated or failed dental work can cause of gray, brown, black or even yellow tooth staining. [More about tooth discoloration associated with compromised dental restorations.]
8) Tooth trauma / Root canal treatment
Events associated with causing or treating tooth nerve tissue damage can result in gray or brown tooth discoloration. These events include traumatic incidents (an accident or fall) and root canal treatment. The stain only forms within those teeth (typically one or just a few) that have been directly affected by the event. [More about how root canal treatment and tooth trauma can cause tooth discoloration.]
Factors that can cause tooth staining - The details.
A) Chromogenic agents - Tooth stains can be caused by the products we consume.
People who regularly consume chromogenic agents such as tea, coffee, cola, red wine or tobacco products may notice that their teeth have become dingy or have yellowed over time. (In the most severe cases this type of discoloration can even take on an orange or brown tint.) This staining effect is due to the fact that some of the pigmented compounds contained in these consumables can become trapped within a tooth's enamel layer.
In similar fashion, it is also possible that people who regularly consume heavily pigmented foods (such as blueberries, cherries, cranberries or soy sauce) will notice this same type of staining effect. In fact, if you regularly consume something that if you drop or drip it may stain your clothes, it's possible that over time it can have a staining effect on your teeth.
The degree of tooth staining that results from a consumable typically correlates to the regularity or relative level of exposure that a person has had to it (or the cumulative effect from a group of products). You may be able to minimize the staining potential of chromogenic consumables in general by way of rinsing with a little bit of water after your exposure to them.
B) Medicines - Systemic exposure to certain types of medicines (tetracycline, fluoride) can cause tooth staining.
Some people's tooth staining is caused by a historic systemic exposure to certain types of medicines.
The typical theme associated with this type of staining effect is that the offending compound is ingested during childhood during that time frame when the person's teeth are forming. The compound subsequently becomes incorporated into the tooth's mineralized tissues (enamel and/or dentin), therefore affecting the tooth's color.
The staining itself may be generalized (has affected the coloration of the entire tooth) or it may take the form of splotches, patches, lines or ribbons of stain. For the most part, it simply depends upon the overall duration of the exposure to the offending compound and what portions of the tooth's enamel were being formed during that time frame.
1) Tetracycline considerations.
One medication well known for causing tooth discoloration is the antibiotic tetracycline (and also the related antibiotics minocycline and doxycycline).
If children are given tetracycline during those years when their tooth enamel is forming their teeth can acquire a yellow-brown or, more typically, a blue-grey staining. For this reason, tetracycline (and related antibiotics) are seldom prescribed for children eight years and younger or for pregnant women. (The use of the minocycline has been reported to cause tooth staining even in adults.)
[Two Animated-Teeth.com smile makeovers that illustrates the treatment of tetracycline tooth staining.]
2) Fluoride considerations - Fluorosis.
An appropriate exposure to fluoride can provide some very significant dental health benefits. But if a child ingests an excessive amount of fluoride during that time period when their teeth are developing, a type of tooth staining termed "fluorosis" can result.
In most cases, this type of staining results in the formation of chalky-white patches or streaks that run across the surface of a tooth. In more severe cases, it can cause brown discolorations or even cause the tooth's enamel to have a pitted surface.
[ Our animation above and this Animated-Teeth.com smile makeover case illustrate how very white fluorosis stains can sometimes be hidden by bleaching normally colored teeth to a lighter shade. Other smile makeovers that show examples of fluorosis. ]
C) Age-related staining - A person's teeth normally darken as they grow older.
It is to be expected that with age the shade of a person's teeth will darken. This is because great deal of what we visualize as the color of a tooth stems from the play of light as it passes through a tooth's translucent outer layer (its enamel) and then reflects back out once it has struck the opaque inner structure of the tooth (the tooth's dentin) that lies underneath. Any circumstances that alter the properties of these tooth tissues (enamel or dentin) will have an effect on the apparent color of a tooth.
As an example, with age it is commonplace that the thickness of a tooth's enamel becomes thinner, thus revealing more of the (darker) dentin that lies underneath. The color of a tooth's dentin itself also tends to change with time. Its color typically becomes darker as a tooth's normal physiologic and reparative processes create more of it (secondary dentin).
D) Genetic factors - All teeth have an inherent baseline color.
Simple observation of those around us will quickly reveal that the teeth of humans, collectively as a race, display a wide range of different shades of white. There is no one specific color that a person's teeth are supposed to be, or should be. Due to inherited genetic factors, some people's teeth are just naturally lighter, or darker, in color than others.
As evidence of this variability, if you have ever had a porcelain crown or tooth bonding placed you have probably noticed that at some point during the procedure your dentist has compared the color of your teeth to a "shade guide."
A shade guide is a sampling of the various shades of white the particular dental material your dentist is working with is manufactured in. Manufacturers make their products in a range of shades of white because they realize that there is no one color that teeth are expected or supposed to be.