What Stains the Teeth?

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shutterstock_376207711When the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry asked a group of people what they most wanted to improve about their smiles, the majority admitted they wanted brighter, whiter teeth.

The reasons why so many people have stained or discolored teeth are varied. Some experience changes inside the teeth that cause intrinsic staining, whereas other people have stains on the surface of the teeth (called extrinsic staining).

Here, Dr. Jerry Strauss of Aesthetic Dental Care of New Jersey explains some of the most common causes of intrinsic and extrinsic discoloration. 


Exposure to tetracycline antibiotics can stain the dentin, the sensitive tissue right below the tooth enamel. If your mother used tetracycline antibiotics during the second half of her pregnancy with you, or if you took them when you were a young child, your teeth may have a yellow or dark tint.

Chips and Other Injuries

Another type of intrinsic tooth stain, or stain that affects the inner structure of the tooth, is trauma to the tooth structure. Small chips and cracks can cause a tooth to become discolored. If the pulp of the tooth (the connective tissue in the center of the tooth) sustains damage, yellowing or darkening is even more likely to occur.


Over time, the dentin in the teeth naturally yellows. In addition, the enamel thins with age, so the darkened dentin shows through.

Certain Foods and Beverages

Certain foods and beverages are known to discolor the enamel of the teeth, or the hard surface protecting the dentin and pulp. The foods and beverages that lead to this extrinsic staining include the following:

  • curry
  • red wine
  • tea
  • coffee
  • soda
  • sports beverages
  • dark berries
  • balsamic vinegar

How to Treat Tooth Stains

Sometimes a regular cleaning with a dental hygienist can remove surface stains; otherwise, Dr. Strauss offers professional in-office Zoom! teeth whitening to lift stains and restore a beautiful white color to the teeth.

During a Zoom! whitening procedure, a special bleaching gel is applied to the surface of the teeth. It is activated with a low-intensity light, and oxygen then enters the dentin and enamel, lightening the color of the teeth. Typically, Zoom! whitening takes about an hour and results are almost immediately noticeable. Take-home trays can help maintain the improved color of the teeth.

For more information about tooth staining and whitening treatment, please contact Aesthetic Dental Care of New Jersey by calling us or sending us an email.