Can tetracycline stained teeth be whitened?
Does teeth bleaching work on tetracycline stained teeth?
Yes, in some cases it can.
To explain, we’ve created the digital smile makeovers shown on this page to demonstrate how a dentist might use bleaching treatments as a remedy for tooth staining caused by tetracycline exposure, and as a backdrop to discuss some of the obstacles that might be encountered and possible remedies for them.
Depending on the severity of the patient’s condition:
- Performing the whitening treatments may be able to fully resolve the discoloration.
- Even if not, they still may provide enough of a lightening effect to substantially mask or blend in the stain that existed, and therefore provide a satisfactory, although not perfect, result.
- In cases where the results are outright disappointing, having performed them may set the stage where the follow up dental work that’s needed to finally correct the problem will be less extensive. We explain with each case below.
Case #1: Lightening teeth that have tetracycline staining.
Dental history and concerns:
1) For the most part, this person is happy with the overall shape and alignment of their teeth. Their main concern is simply their dark color.
Before image: Teeth that have tetracycline staining.
Attempting to lighten this smile using teeth-whitening treatments. – It’s possible that this case might be treated just by utilizing some type of at-home or in-office tooth-whitening treatments (or a combination of both). This is what we have illustrated in our “after” picture.
After image: Tetracycline stained teeth treated via whitening treatments.
b) The whitening process will require some commitment. – Tetracycline tooth staining has a reputation for being difficult to treat. Being successful usually requires a highly motivated patient (and dentist). An extended number of treatments may be required.
c) Touch-up whitening will be needed. – The original bleaching effect gained can be expected to fade over time. But renewing it (probably just by performing at-home treatments) can be expected to be much easier and cheaper than the initial round of whitening.
If tooth whitening doesn’t produce acceptable results, place veneers. – Placing porcelain veneers could be another way to treat this same case. And when compared to teeth-whitening treatments, it can probably offer a more predictable cosmetic outcome, although at a much greater expense.
The downside of this approach is that no dental work lasts forever. Once veneers have been placed, there will be a time when they need to be replaced. So, even though their end result may be more ideal aesthetically, the time, cost, and maintenance requirements they impose may make the less-perfect solution (teeth whitening) the more attractive alternative.
Lightening the teeth first can improve the outcome of a veneering case. – There can be a benefit to whitening teeth (to whatever degree) before a set of porcelain veneers is placed. In fact, whitening treatments are sometimes used as the initial step of this process. Here’s why.
When veneers are used to change the color of teeth (like dark tetracycline staining), they must be opaque enough to mask the color of the stained tooth underneath. However, it’s a veneer’s translucency that creates its life-like appearance. So, if the starting color of the teeth can be lightened first, at least a little bit, the porcelain veneers that are placed can be relatively less opaque and more translucent, therefore giving a relatively more natural appearance.
Case #2: Another case involving tetracycline tooth staining.
Dental history and concerns:
Before image: A smile with stained teeth.
It may be, due to genetics, that her tooth enamel is just naturally darker than other people’s. It is also possible (and probably most likely) that during the time frame when her teeth were forming that she had an exposure to a compound (such as the antibiotic tetracycline) that resulted in the staining.
After image: Smile after teeth whitening treatments.
That’s because so much of the success of tooth whitening is dependent on the underlying cause of the staining. And some types (like that caused by tetracycline) can be more difficult to treat than others. After an examination, her dentist could advise her as to what degree of results might be expected.
2) If whitening fails, then place porcelain veneers. – If whitening treatments cannot provide the results that this person wants, then porcelain veneers may have to be considered. This treatment will, however, have a much greater expense.
As mentioned above, the effort and cost associated with the “failed” whitening attempt would not have been wasted. Making a large tooth-color change with porcelain veneers is easier and more predictable, at least in terms of achieving a natural-looking result, if the teeth have been lightened first.