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Tooth Stains: What They Are, What Causes Them and How to Get Whiter Teeth


This information is intended to generate awareness amongst the users of oral care hygiene products. It is always recommended to seek advice of your dentist or other qualified health care provided for any diagnosis or treatment.

Ever looked in the mirror and wondered how your teeth got so yellow? Many of us have. Because yellowing can happen gradually, it can easily go overlooked. Luckily, yellowing teeth are not a sign of a serious medical condition. And while it may be disheartening and confidence-shattering to feel like you've lost your best accessory—your bright, white smile—you can get it back. For starters, be aware of what causes yellowing, and how you can avoid or limit exposure to those things.

What's Causing the Stains on My Teeth?

To understand tooth stains, you first need to understand the anatomy of a tooth.

The enamel is the outer shell that covers the part of your tooth that's visible above the gumlines. Inside enamel are thousands of microscopic pores or tubes, called "tubules." Over time and depending on our lifestyle and food choices, stain particles gradually accumulate inside of these small tubules. The more they do, the darker the tooth becomes on the outside. Some stain particles adhere directly on the outside of the smooth enamel. This is the type of buildup that is usually cleaned away by home use dental products or during a routine dental checkup.

In some cases, internal elements of your tooth below the enamel will darken or become discolored. Dying nerves and medication staining can cause inner elements to be much darker than they ought to be. Even if you have bright enamel, the discoloration shows through when you smile.

The Two Types of Tooth Stains: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

Tooth stains are typically either extrinsic or intrinsic stains.

Extrinsic stains refer to particles that are on the outer, or exterior, surface of the teeth. They're superficial in that they only affect the outer appearance of your smile rather than its physical anatomy.

Examples of extrinsic tooth stain are those that come from tobacco use and consuming dark foods and liquids, such as tea, coffee, berries, curry, red wine and tomato sauce. Environmental factors can also cause extrinsic stains. People who swim in a chlorinated pool on a regular basis for example, may notice brown stains on their teeth over time. Some children who take vitamins or drink a lot of milk may tend to see mineral stain deposits on their teeth that other children never get.

Fortunately, extrinsic tooth stains may be addressed by stain removal dental products like toothpaste &  mouthwash. Severe cases can be polished away by your dentist during dental cleaning.

Intrinsic stains are the ones that are inside of your tooth structure. It may be something that's visible from deep inside the tooth's anatomy, or from extrinsic stains that have gradually seeped through the porous tooth surface.

What causes stained teeth

Stained teeth may seem like a singular problem, but in reality, there are a number of underlying issues that cause discoloration and yellow teeth. Your dentist can usually pinpoint which one it is during an exam, but with the process of elimination, you can too.

Food and drink — Dark liquids and foods are often the biggest culprits when it comes to recurring tooth stain. These stains are usually brown or black.

Tobacco products — Cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and other types of recreational inhalants can cause stain particles to build up on teeth. The staining is usually heaviest at the front of the mouth.

Trauma — Past trauma to a tooth can cause the nerve to die later on. Dying teeth tend to take on a brown or grey appearance over time.

Medication — Certain types of medication should be avoided during pregnancy and early childhood, because of the risk of tooth staining. Tetracycline is one example. This antibiotic is known for causing permanent teeth to have a bluish color if it's given to a child at a young age or to their mother during gestation. It is best to check with your doctor regarding any medications that you need to take during pregnancy or that your child does during their early years.

Mineral imbalances — Growing up in an area with too high of mineral content in the water supply can alter the formation of your teeth and bones. For example, hypo- or hyper-fluoridation can cause teeth to have white or brown speckles across the surface.

Decalcification — Have you ever seen white circles on a person's teeth after having braces removed? These patchy spots called white spot lesions are due to plaque etching away at the enamel around the brackets, due to inadequate oral hygiene. This decalcification is the first stage of tooth decay.


We've all been there. We eat something a dark shade of purple, and the next time we look in the mirror, our tongues are black and our teeth coated in colour. Scan this list of top foods and drinks known to discolour teeth, and try to rinse and brush after having them. When that is not an option, use water to flush them out of your mouth.

TOOTH STAINER #1: Orange (or any coloured) Popsicles

Foods such as flavoured ice popsicles that get their colour from dyes can stain your teeth. Remember this rule: If it turns your tongue a different colour, it's also discolouring your teeth, just in a less noticeable way.

TOOTH STAINER #2: Dark Berries

From blueberries to raspberries to cranberries - berries can stain your teeth. This is not a reason to avoid eating these potent, antioxidant-packed superfoods. Just be sure to rinse with water after popping the juicy fruits in your mouth


Yes, red wine is a known offender — but did you know that white wine, with its tannins, could also discolour your teeth? Be sure to stop drinking wine 30 minutes before your night-time brush-floss-rinse routine to achieve best results


This sugary, dark condiment with potent spices, like curry, cumin and turmeric, can stain your teeth over time. Just be sure to rinse and brush after meals containing ketchup. If that's not an option, drink water to flush away tooth-staining food particles.


You don’t have to quit your caffeine habit just because it stains your teeth—just put it on ice and try and use a straw when sipping down the dark liquid.


With or without sugar, soda discolours your teeth and smile. Soda is no friend to your mouth and should be avoided. Make sure to keep up a good dental routine to prevent your teeth from turning yellow, grey or brown.


Professional Dentist Whitening

A benefit to having a dentist-administered treatment is that your mouth is usually thoroughly cleaned and examined before the treatment takes place. In-office cleanings typically use hydrogen peroxides. The procedure usually involves a dentist applying peroxide gel, removing it and reapplying it several times. Professional whitening treatments can make teeth four to six shades whiter. Another benefit to in-office treatment is that your gums and mouth are protected while the teeth are brightened. These tend be the most expensive whitening solutions, but the effects also last the longest.

So you've had your teeth whitened, or you already take great care of your teeth and want to keep them bright and shiny, but aren't sure how. Below are some tips to help you do just that.

Post Teeth-Whitening Maintenance: How to Keep Teeth White

Limit contact with dark foods and beverages. With beverages, use a straw or opt for a clear liquid instead of a dark one. If you plan to indulge in teeth-staining foods, have your toothbrush and mouthwash that keeps the natural whiteness of teeth on hand to clean your teeth shortly after your meal.

Use homecare products that contain whitening ingredients: the toothpaste and the whitening mouthwash you choose are essential to helping you avoid new stains from building up on your teeth. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and never attempt to use more of a product than recommended. Doing so could lead to tooth sensitivity, gum irritation or other side-effects. Similarly, you must use the product regularly if you expect to see results! The less often you use it, the more likely stains are to come back.

Make sure you also schedule regular dental checkups. Ongoing cleanings with your dentist or hygienist will help clean away stain that has built up between appointments, helping your teeth-whitening product work more effectively over the years.  

Is Teeth-Whitening for You?

Don’t whiten your teeth if you have active periodontal  (gum) disease or cavities. Likewise, if you experience sensitivity while using teeth-whitening toothpastes, stop using them to see if symptoms improve. Your dentist can let you know if your teeth are healthy enough to whiten or recommend gentler products to try. In most cases, over-the-counter teeth-whitening mouthwashes and toothpastes are gentler than what you would see used in a dentist’s office. As such, they’re ideal for people with sensitive teeth, lighter amounts of stain or as an affordable teeth-whitening alternative to keep your teeth bright between deeper whitening sessions. When choosing a teeth-whitening product, select brands known for their quality options and recommended by dental professionals

DIY Teeth-Whitening Warnings

Do not attempt to remove tooth stains by using abrasive DIY ingredients, such as baking soda or fruits like lemons, strawberries. Gritty or acidic ingredients such as these can cause permanent damage to your tooth structure. While they may make your teeth look white at first, that’s due to the outer layer of your enamel drying out. The rougher the texture becomes or as become further eroded by acids, your teeth will actually become darker.

How Do I Get Rid of Tooth Stains?

First, make sure your teeth are healthy. Have them examined by your dentist to ensure there's nothing physically wrong, such as active gum disease or decay in your enamel.

To jump start the teeth whitening process, begin treating your smile after you've had your teeth professionally cleaned. That way the whitening products can work better and faster, since extrinsic stains have been polished away by your dentist or hygienist.

If you're between dental checkups, chances are that your stain isn’t too heavy to remove on your own (as long as you use the right tools.)

Using a teeth whitening toothpaste and whitening mouthwash on a regular basis can help you to lighten the tooth stains you already have and prevent you from getting new ones. Additionally, it can prolong the results of teeth whitening treatments from strips, gels, trays or in-house procedures.

Clean your teeth thoroughly by brushing and flossing before using a whitening product such as mouth rinse or gels. If your teeth aren’t responding to the products you’re using, be sure to see a dentist. Severe extrinsic stains or moderate intrinsic stains may be difficult if not impossible to whiten on your own. But lighter tooth stains can typically be managed at home.  

Is Mouthwash Good for Stained Teeth?

You’ve probably heard different opinions about the use of mouthwash for treating tooth stain. Can mouthwash stain teeth? Depending on the kind, yes. For example, chlorhexidine mouthwash prescriptions are used to treat gum disease. You won’t find this mouthwash in a store — it’s only prescribed by dentists to people with periodontitis. And they’re usually not to be used for more than about two weeks.

The medication inside of them can usually cause extrinsic tooth stains.


But other types of mouthwash are good for managing tooth stains. For example, those that contain polyphosphates in them have an advantage, as the non-abrasive ingredient gently helps safely lift stains without weakening the tooth. Additionally, certain mouthwashes that contain zinc chloride can help prevent soft plaque biofilm from calcifying into tartar. Since tartar often takes on discoloration and stains, doing an oral rinse with a zinc chloride-containing mouthwash helps limit the process altogether


Try supplementing your diet with the following foods. Not only do they offer you nutritional benefits, but they also help keep your teeth white.

TOOTH WHITENER #1: Cauliflower

It's one of those foods that requires a lot of chewing – and that's a good thing for your teeth. The longer it takes to break down your food, the more saliva you produce. And saliva is a natural cleanser for your teeth to keep them shining bright.

TOOTH WHITENER #2: Strawberries

These fruits may be a dark colour, but they are also packed with an enzyme known as malic acid, which naturally makes teeth whiter.


Your mother told you to drink your milk for strong bones and a sparkling white smile. And she was correct. Dairy products, such as cheese, yoghurt and milk, contain lactic acid and the enamel-fortifying mineral calcium, which strengthen teeth while also whitening them. Chewing on cheese also prompts production of saliva, which washes away staining food particles.



This fruit requires a lot of chewing to eat, similar to crunchy carrots, and that's a good, cleansing exercise for your mouth. The natural scrubbing action washes particles from the teeth and keeps them white.


Fibrous fruits and veggies are not just nutrient-rich and low on calories, the chewy foods also keep teeth white and gum tissue healthy



So, now you know the major factors causing stained teeth and ways to deal with them. It is very disturbing to see yellow patches on the teeth and that's when you obediently follow a strict dental care regime till it turns white again. Gradually, the habit of brushing twice a day and rinsing after every meal fades, bringing back the stains. What do you do now? Go back to dental care again? It is advisable that you don't break the chain of rinsing, brushing or mouth washing after every meal. Don't let the dirty stains come in the way of a great smile.
Overdoing re-whitening procedures can cause sensitivity and pain. Also, some whitening products have chemicals which can replaced with natural homebased whitening ingredients such as coconut oil and apple cider vinegar.
If you are wearing dentures, brush every day with a denture care product or soak them in water over night for a bright white effect.

Note : Listerine® Healthy White Mouthwash and Listerine® Total Care Mouthwash are not available in India

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