Is Tooth Discoloration Related to Dental Health or Simply Cosmetic?

No one wants to have discolored teeth. Whether you have a single discolored tooth or teeth
that are collectively turning a different hue, tooth staining could mean a variety of things.
Depending on the cause of the color change, tooth discoloration could be related to your dental health or it could simply be cosmetic. But how can you know what the cause is?

Here are some common tooth staining causes which your dentist can evaluate when
determining the cause of your discolored teeth.

Intrinsic Discoloration

Intrinsic tooth discoloration happens when the cause of the different color is coming from inside the tooth and is not affected by exterior factors.

When it’s cosmetic: Children whose mothers took the antibiotic tetracycline while they were pregnant or children who were given this antibiotic while their adult teeth were still developing may have darker teeth as a result [1].

There are other medications that can cause teeth to be darker, including antihistamines and blood pressure medications. If you received medications that caused your tooth discoloration, then the discoloration is likely cosmetic and not harming your dental health.

When it’s related to dental health: If you have a single discolored tooth or even several
discolored teeth that have a grayish appearance, this could mean the nerve tissue inside your tooth is dead or infected. This is absolutely related to dental health and will need to be evaluated by your professional dentist.

Extrinsic Staining

Extrinsic tooth staining is related to external factors and is not caused by anything within the body.

When it’s cosmetic: Extrinsic staining is usually cosmetic as it can happen from the foods and drinks we consume, such as wine, coffee, or tea. Staining from foods and drinks typically doesn’t affect the health of your tooth enamel, although it can impact your appearance over time.

When it’s related to dental health: If you have widespread tooth discoloration, this could be a sign of enamel damage. If your teeth have a more yellowish appearance and are sensitive, these could be signs your tooth enamel has worn away and is exposing the softer tissue beneath, called dentin, which has a more yellow color [2].

Missing tooth enamel increases your risk for tooth decay and sensitivity, so be sure to schedule an appointment with your dentist to see what can be done for your oral health.

Concerned about Tooth Discoloration?

If one or more of your teeth are discolored, schedule an appointment with your dentist. While professional teeth whitening can help some discoloration, you’ll only know the most effective options for improving your smile by uncovering the cause of the staining.

For instance, if one of your teeth is discolored and your dentist finds the nerve tissue is dead, a professional whitening won’t help restore the color—you’ll need to remove the affected tissue first. If you have enamel damage and have yellowish teeth, a professional whitening could cause even more discomfort, so you’ll need to consider other treatment first.

Regardless of what’s causing your tooth discoloration, your dentist can help you find the cause and choose the right treatment option so you can see your best smile again!