“[This type of] staining is more difficult to correct when the dentin becomes darker,” says Dr. Reid. She explains that tetracycline and doxycycline antibiotic use at an early age, or use by expectant mothers during the second stage of pregnancy (which is when tooth development happens) can cause this type of staining in children’s teeth. Additionally, “too much fluoride, either administered from over-fluoridated water sources or excessive ingestion of fluoride supplements during tooth development, may contribute to tooth discoloration by causing the development of white or brown spots or pitting of the enamel, which can darken over time.” Dr. Reid adds.

Can “tooth trauma,” i.e. injuries, make them appear darker or yellower?

Trauma to the teeth, such as dental injuries, can also impact their color. According to Dr. Veytsman, “Blunt force trauma aggravates the tooth’s nerves and the nerves die. [A dead nerve] is like an internal bruise of the tooth and it can turn completely gray from the inside.”

So, while you might feel lucky when you trip on the sidewalk or take a hockey puck to the face and come away with all your teeth, the impact can ultimately dull your teeth as the nerves start to die. (If this occurs, Dr. Veytsman explains that the tooth can be bleached from the inside out following a root canal).

What is the maximum amount that you whiten your teeth — both at home or at the dentist? 

Contrary to popular belief, you aren’t boosting the actual whiteness of your teeth through professional whitening services or at-home products. Rather, Dr. Veytsman says that these services are just removing a buildup of stains that have accumulated over the years to expose your brightest natural color. These stains can be worsened by smoking, consuming staining food or beverages like blueberries, coffee, tea, wine, eating acidic foods, and not practicing quality oral hygiene. This means daily brushing with a toothbrush, flossing, using mouthwash, and seeing your dentist for annual or even biannual cleanings.

Everyday habits at home can also help or hurt your whitening efforts. Dr. Huang explains that nutrition also contributes to the tone of your teeth, stating that “mineral-dense foods can help result in whiter teeth. A malnourished child will see an effect in their teeth.” Some toothpastes can also actually be working against you here, too: Although they were trendy for a few years, Dr. Reid adds that, “using abrasive toothpastes, such as charcoal toothpaste, [can] lead to thinning of the enamel, making the teeth appear darker as the dentin layer begins to show through more.” 

All of these types of discoloration are known as extrinsic stains and only affect the outermost layer of the tooth, which is what teeth whitening services and products target. Although your teeth might look extra bright at the end of a professional treatment, it’s not an effect that will last forever, nor will it withstand stains from certain lifestyle choices.

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