Split picture showing a man’s teeth stains and how they looked after going through tooth whitening.

Teeth Stains: Causes, Prevention, and Removal Methods

Everybody wants to have nice, bright, pearly white teeth when they flash a smile. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that end up causing teeth stains.

There’s some good news, though. Most of those stains are removable.

A combination of prevention and some methods to remove stains from teeth will have you loving your smile in no time. The first thing you need to understand is what’s causing the stains in the first place.

Common Causes For Teeth Stains

There are three different types of teeth stains.

The first type is extrinsic staining. This type of stains is found on the surface of the tooth. You get these when there is food or drink residue and buildup that covers the enamel. It’s caused by things you eat and drink, along with tobacco use.

Intrinsic staining is the second type. As the name implies, this kind of staining happens below the surface of the tooth. This occurs when the particles of food and other buildup work their way past the tooth’s enamel. These types of stains often need to be removed by a professional, but sometimes they can be addressed with at-home methods.

Lastly, there’s age-related staining. Most adults’ teeth will discolor as part of the normal aging process. That’s because your enamel will wear down over time, making the dentin below it more visible. The dentin naturally yellows, so your teeth appear more yellow. That combination of intrinsic and extrinsic staining over time causes a lasting discoloration.

Food and Drinks

What you eat and drink can be a major factor behind teeth stains. There are certain things that are more likely to cause discoloration.

For foods, fruits like dark berries can leave your teeth with a kind of purple tint sometimes. The pigment in those berries can get into the pores of your enamel and cause staining. That goes for different fruit juices, as well.

Red sauces, like what you’ll find on pizza or in spaghetti, can also cause discoloration. Those sauces are acidic, which weakens your tooth enamel.

You should watch what you drink in order to prevent teeth stains. Your morning cup of tea or coffee will be a big player in causing discoloration. Both drinks are dark in color and contain compounds that can cause stains. The same goes for dark sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks. All are associated with weakening your enamel, which leaves your teeth prone to staining.

Alcohol and Tobacco

Wine lovers might notice a purple hue to their mouths after having a couple of glasses of vino. Those grapes that were used to make the wine are known for leaving stains behind. Other alcoholic beverages like beer also make your saliva acidic, which weakens your enamel and leaves your teeth prone to stains.

Tobacco use, such as smoking cigarettes or using chewing tobacco, has been shown to leave behind yellow or brown discoloration. Studies also show that tobacco users are more likely to experience teeth stains than people who don’t use tobacco.

Other Factors

While food, drink, and tobacco use are some of the main contributors to tooth discoloration, they aren’t the only culprits.

Another factor to take into consideration is if you’ve had any damage to a tooth. If you have had some type of injury to the tooth, it may get darker. It will usually be confined to just the damaged tooth.

As mentioned previously, aging should be taken into account, as well. Your teeth will naturally yellow as you get older.

Lastly, some medications can cause discoloration of the teeth. You’ll need to speak to your doctor to see if any antibiotics you have been prescribed could cause this as a side effect.

Woman smiling after having dentist remove stains from teeth

How to Whiten Teeth

Your first course of action shouldn’t be surprising: keep up with regular brushing and flossing.

You should be brushing your teeth for 2 minutes twice a day. Use a whitening toothpaste that has the American Dental Association seal of approval.

There are some over-the-counter whitening products aside from toothpaste you can use. It’s a good idea to talk to your dentist before using them to make sure it’s a good product for you to be using.

If those things aren’t working, you may need a professional whitening treatment from your dentist.

Prevention is also key. Try to stay away from drinks that are likely to causing staining. When you do have those drinks, you can drink through a straw to help minimize the amount of contact the drink has with your teeth.

If you don’t have a straw available or just don’t like to use them, rinse your mouth out with water after having one of those other drinks. It will help your mouth start getting its pH balance back to a good level, which keeps your enamel strong.

Quit using tobacco products right away to prevent any further staining.

Beware Natural Teeth Whitening Methods

You’re probably wondering about some other at-home remedies you’ve heard about through the years. We’ll talk about a few of these, but in general, they aren’t a good idea. In reality, most of them are bad for your teeth and do more harm than good.

First, let’s talk about scrubs with a paste made of activated charcoal or baking soda. There’s no evidence that shows those scrubs will help whiten your teeth. The fact of the matter is rubbing these abrasive substances on your teeth can damage the enamel, which will actually make your teeth appear more yellow.

There’s also the myth that rubbing lemons, oranges, or apple cider vinegar will have a whitening effect on your smile. In this case, you’re introducing a lot of acids directly to your teeth, which weakens the enamel. That leaves your teeth more prone to staining and other issues.

Another popular home remedy is called oil pulling, where you swish something like coconut oil around in your mouth. The American Dental Association says there’s no evidence to show this has any effect on whitening your teeth.

Keys to a Brighter Smile

As is the case with most things concerning your oral health, the best thing you can do to have the bright white teeth that you want is to brush and floss twice a day. Preventing the stains in the first place is the best thing you can do.

Of course, you’re not going to prevent all types of stains. Talk to your dentist about using an over-the-counter whitening product or see if they recommend you get some type of professional treatment at the office.