The 2 Types of Stains Teeth Whitening Removes

Are you one that can only function in the mornings if you have your cup of coffee? Perhaps you relax every night with a glass of wine? You may even be a ketchup fiend who eats almost everything doused in ketchup. If any of these things describe you, then you most likely have stained teeth. There is no need to be ashamed, however, because there are a variety of highly pigmented food and beverages that can cause stains on the teeth. Even if you don’t drink coffee or wine, or consume copious amounts of ketchup, your teeth may still have stains. 

The simple fact of the matter is teeth are porous and absorb colored pigments from everything we consume. This is why many people eventually see a cosmetic dentist for professional teeth whitening. Teeth whitening procedures are non-invasive cosmetic dental procedures that can remove years of stains in a single appointment. Specifically, here are the two types of stains removed by teeth whitening: 

Extrinsic Stains

Extrinsic stains form on the outermost layer of the tooth, or the enamel. In most cases, extrinsic stains are the result of things that can be controlled by individual, such as diet, tobacco use, and oral hygiene habits. Stains that form on the enamel layer are the result of consuming highly pigmented food or beverages, as well as smoking or using inadequate dental hygiene techniques. If dental plaque is allowed to build up, then this will also stain and make the teeth appear stained. Some examples of extrinsic stains include: 

  • Food stains (ketchup, marinara sauce, soy sauce, beets, pomegranate seeds, etc.)
  • Beverage stains (coffee, tea, wine, and dark sodas)
  • Tobacco use (nicotine and tar)
  • Dental plaque that has also stained or become tinted in color
  • Hardened plaque, known as tartar
  • Metal restorations
  • Mouthwash that binds to the tannins found in coffee, tea, and wine
  • Mouthwashes that produce dead bacterial residue
Teeth shedding it's yellow shell for a whiter color

Intrinsic Stains

Intrinsic stains form on the middle layer of the tooth, or the dentin. Since the dentin makes up the majority of the tooth structure and can be seen through the enamel, a stained dentin layer can make the entire tooth appear stained. The causes of internal tooth stains are not as well known, but some can be the result of tooth development. Some causes of intrinsic stains include: 

  • Dental decay that first appears as a white spot and then turns to a brown color
  • Excess fluoride that usually causes white flecks to form
  • Tooth trauma can cause teeth to appear reddish, gray, light brown, yellow, or black
  • Certain antibiotics such as tetracycline & minocycline
  • Age that causes the enamel to thin and expose more of the naturally yellowish dentin

During a professional teeth whitening procedure, both extrinsic and intrinsic stains can be removed or lightened by whitening agents. The final results of whitening treatment will depend upon the severity and cause of the stain, as well as how it reacts to the whitener. For severe or stubborn stains, more than whitening treatment may be required to obtain the desired results. However, in some cases your cosmetic dentist may recommend another type of restoration method for discolored teeth. Ultimately, only a consultation with a cosmetic dentist will determine if your teeth stains can be removed with teeth whitening. 

Gerard J. Lemongello DMD

Dr. Gerard J. Lemongello Jr. graduated from the University of Florida College of Dentistry and has been in private practice since 1987. His focus is on cosmetic and comprehensive restorative rehabilitative dentistry. He is a member of the American Dental Association, Florida Dental Association and Academy of General Dentistry, and is an accredited member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.    

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