What causes your teeth to become stained?

Have you ever wondered why your teeth become stained even after regular brushing? Do you know what lifestyle factors can lead to tooth staining? Are you looking for ways to remove staining and get whiter looking teeth? In this blog, we’ll look at the anatomy of the tooth and what causes teeth to be stained as well as what you can do to reverse the effects.

Extrinsic teeth staining

This is staining on the outer surface of your teeth and these stains are caused by pigmentation in the food and drinks that we consume. Over time the effect of this staining gets worse as the staining builds up on the enamel layer of our teeth. Extrinsic staining is caused by wine, carbonated drinks, tea, coffee and tobacco. While this discolouration is hard to avoid it is also one of the easiest to get rid of.

Intrinsic stains

While extrinsic staining can be found on the outer layer of your teeth, intrinsic affects the inner layers of your teeth such as the dentine. This staining will cause your teeth to become yellow and discoloured. Intrinsic staining is usually caused by health-related conditions such as:
• Tooth decay at the gumline
• Trauma to the tooth causing nerve damage
• Genetics
• Too much fluoride consumption when young

Discolouration with age

As we get older cracks in the enamel of teeth can allow staining to penetrate from the enamel to the layers below such as the dentine. Even without these cracks as the enamel wears it will become thinner and allow the dentine below to show through. Dentine becomes naturally yellow with age causing your teeth to look discoloured as you get older.


People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day are six times more likely to suffer from gum disease than those who don’t. Those who smoke will also find it a lot more difficult to recover from this as they will have slower healing compared with non-smokers.

Anatomy of a tooth

Your teeth are made up of 4 layers with the top two layers responsible for the colouration of your teeth. The four layers are:
• Enamel – this is the hard outer layer that protects your teeth from decay
• Dentine – is made up of living tissue which communicates with the nerve of your teeth
• Pulp – the soft centre of the tooth consists of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue
• Cementum – this binds your teeth with your gums and jawbone

How to reverse discolouration

The first step is to understand the cause of your tooth discolouration. Your dentist will be able to carry out a full assessment and health check of your teeth to identify what the best course of action will be.
For extrinsic staining, a visit to your dental hygienist will often be the first step to visibly whiter teeth. Following a thorough clean you may then decide to improve the colour further with a professional tooth whitening service. This will work on natural teeth which are not discoloured for reasons other than food, tobacco or drink staining.

Intrinsic staining is a little different. Depending on why your teeth have been stained there will be different options for you to choose from. If your teeth are otherwise healthy then a bleaching agent can be used on the dentine layer of your tooth to provide the whitening that you’d like. Where this option is not able to be used then you may need to look at other cosmetic options such as composite or porcelain veneers.

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