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Treating the Different Types of Tooth Discoloration

Dr. Hellwig Aug 26, 2016

A side-by-side comparison of discolored teeth and whitened teethFor many patients, professional teeth whitening can lift years of tooth discoloration and reveal white teeth. But for some patients, teeth whitening isn’t that effective. There are different types of tooth discoloration, some of which respond well to teeth whitening while others require alternative treatments to achieve desired results. Fortunately, there are many cosmetic dentistry treatments available to address the different types of tooth discoloration and create a beautiful, vibrant smile. Dr. Peter Hellwig determines the best treatment for the different types of tooth discoloration during consultations at his San Diego, CA practice. To find out which treatment is right for you, we welcome you to schedule a consultation.

The Different Types of Tooth Discoloration

Tooth discoloration can be broken down into two types, extrinsic stains and intrinsic stains. Extrinsic stains are superficial stains and intrinsic stains are deep stains. It is possible to have both types of stains at the same time; this is often seen in older patients. Both types of stains have different causes and require different treatments to obtain the optimum whitening results.

Extrinsic Stains

Extrinsic stains are the most common type of dental discoloration and more easily treated than intrinsic stains. Extrinsic stains affect the enamel, causing the teeth to appear yellow to yellow-brown. The teeth may look evenly discolored, or discoloration may be darker along the gum line.

Extrinsic stains are generally caused by foods and drinks, tobacco use, and the aging process. Certain foods and drinks, like coffee, red wine, and tomato sauce, can cause discoloration to occur rapidly. These foods, combined with tobacco use, can lead to severe discoloration.

Teeth whitening treatments are often highly effective at lifting superficial extrinsic stains, making them easy to treat. In some cases, extrinsic stains may be too dark to treat with teeth whitening or they may be combined with intrinsic stains, which can't be treated with teeth whitening. When this is the case, other cosmetic dentistry options will need to be used to achieve the desired results.

Intrinsic Stains

Intrinsic stains are considered deep stains since they develop within the inner dentin layer of the teeth, below the surface enamel. Intrinsic stains are noticeably different from extrinsic stains. Rather than an overall discoloration, as seen in extrinsic stains, intrinsic stains may appear as white spots or areas of discoloration on the teeth.

Intrinsic stains have many possible causes, including poor oral hygiene, enamel erosion, or trauma to the teeth. Sometimes intrinsic stains occur as a result of childhood exposure to excessive amounts of fluoride or from the use to tetracycline antibiotics before the age of 8. In rare cases, intrinsic stains may develop from a condition called dentinogenesis impefecta.

Because intrinsic stains are below the enamel, they do not respond well to teeth whitening treatment. Fortunately, there are alternative treatments available to create a beautiful smile, like dental bonding and porcelain veneers.

Treating the Different Types of Tooth Discoloration 

Both extrinsic and intrinsic stains can be treated with cosmetic dentistry. Professional teeth whitening is a great option for those with mild to moderate extrinsic stains. Those with severe extrinsic staining may require multiple teeth whitening treatments to reach the desired shade or may opt for alternative treatments, like porcelain veneers or dental bonding. Intrinsic stains cannot be treated with teeth whitening but a flawless white smile is possible with veneers or dental bonding.

Which Treatment Is Right for You?

You can enjoy a beautiful smile with treatment from Dr. Hellwig. To find out which treatment is right for you, we invite you to schedule a consultation today.

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