More and more people are opting to try teeth whitening treatment in order to deal with tooth discolouration. There are various reasons for this; the first is that such treatment is now quicker, more convenient and more effective than it’s even been, and a combination of in home and at surgery applications mean it can be fitted into a busy working and social life whilst still being completely safe. The second reason is that people are now more conscious of the positive effect that an attractive and healthy looking smile can have on their life as a whole, and more willing to undergo the treatment necessary to have one. For too many years discoloured teeth were something that patients simply had to accept or, more likely, hide from view. The good news is that this is no longer the case. What follows is a brief explanation of what exactly tooth discolouration is, what causes it and how you can treat it.
What is tooth discolouration?
If your teeth become discoloured – less white, badly stained or grey and yellow – it can be because the outer, visible layer, or enamel, has been stained by external factors, or because the nature of the enamel itself has altered.
There are three types of discolouration:
Extrinsic – This is the name used when an external factor has stained the enamel a darker colour. It is often caused by strongly coloured drink or food such as red wine, coffee and cola, although smoking is also known to cause staining.
Intrinsic – This describes what happens when the inner substance of the tooth, beneath the enamel – the dentin – begins to turn darker or yellow. It can happen because:
- You were exposed to excessive levels of fluoride when very young.
- Your mother was prescribed tetracycline antibiotics during the latter half of her pregnancy, or you personally took the same medication when you were 8 years old or younger
- One of your teeth was affected by a trauma when you were young. The impact of a fall, for example, can damage the tooth as it develops and cause it to become discoloured.
- When you’re older, a similar trauma to that described above might impact upon a permanent, adult tooth, causing internal bleeding, which leads to discolouration.
Some people have the misfortune to be born with a rare condition which causes purple, amber or grey discolouration of the teeth. This condition is known as dentinogenesis imperfect.
Age related – as you grow older, intrinsic and extrinsic factors can combine to lead to discolouration. The dentin inside the teeth naturally becomes yellow over time, and as the enamel coating it is worn thinner, more of this yellowing shows through. Add to this the staining caused by food and drink and finally any chips, cracks or damage, particularly if it affects the pulp of the teeth, and you have a recipe for discoloration which is hard to avoid.
The symptoms of discolouration The main symptoms are basically marks on the surface of the teeth. These can be an overall yellow shading, brown spots or small pits. If the enamel of your teeth is badly worn, then this will result in overall yellow shading.
Diagnosis Diagnosing discolouration doesn’t require any particular tests or special techniques. It simply involves having your teeth examined by a dentist or dental hygienist, who will be able to tell, from looking, whether they are discoloured.
How long will it last? How long your teeth will be discoloured for depends upon the type of discolouration. Stains such as those caused by coffee might be removable through a professional cleaning. In other cases, when the stains are more permanent in nature, bleaching treatment might be called for, and in the most severe circumstances, your dentist might recommend fitting veneers or a crown.
Preventing discolouration The best way of preventing discolouration occurring is to maintain a very strict dental hygiene regime. Brush your teeth after every meal – although not immediately afterward, as this may drive substances deeper into the enamel – and rinse your mouth with water immediately after drinking the likes of coffee, red wine and strongly coloured fruit juices. Your own hygiene regime can be augmented with regular visits to a dental hygienist. In some cases, intrinsic discolouration, which is caused by damage to a nerve or blood vessel inside the tooth, can be prevented. This will require root canal treatment to deal with and remove the inside of the tooth before it has had a chance to darken. It should be borne in mind, however, that root canal treatment can cause discolouration itself. Intrinsic stains in children can be caused by early-years over exposure to fluoride. Once the teeth are more mature, and the enamel fully formed, fluoride will no longer have this effect.
Treating discolouration A lot of extrinsic stains can be removed through a combination of brushing, flossing and rinsing at home, and regular cleaning by a professional hygienist. More deeply ingrained discolouration can be treated with the application of a bleaching agent to the enamel. For quick results, your dentist will apply a bleaching gel to your teeth and then activate this gel with a special light. Treatments such as this will achieve almost instant results, and further whitening can be achieved using at home bleaching. In some cases, your dentist may recommend you undergo all the treatment at home, over a period of several weeks, using custom made bleaching trays. It is also possible to buy bleaching treatments over the counter, although the fact that they are generally weaker means that treatment may take longer and non-custom made applicators won’t fit as well. Whitening toothpaste may be able to remove some stains, without producing overall whitening, and, in the case of darkening caused by root canal treatment, your dentist may bleach the interior of the tooth or recommend a crown or some veneers, with the same treatment being suitable for teeth which are chipped or badly damaged. As all of the above makes plain – if you’re not happy with what you see when you look into a mirror and smile, then pay a visit to your dentist and discuss the options on offer. Treatments such as teeth whitening and laser teeth whitening can completely transform the appearance of your teeth, and the latest manifestations can achieve quick results, and can be applied in a manner which slots into your busy life.