Yellow, Brown & Pitted Teeth
What Is It?
Your teeth can become discoloured by stains on the surface or by changes inside the tooth. There are three main types of tooth discoloration:
Extrinsic — this occurs when the outer layer of the tooth (the enamel) is stained. Coffee, wine, cola or other drinks or foods can stain teeth. Smoking also causes extrinsic stains.
Intrinsic — this is when the inner structure of the tooth (the dentin) darkens or gets a yellow tint. You can get this type of discoloration if:
- You had too much exposure to fluoride during early childhood.
- Your mother used tetracycline antibiotics during the second half of pregnancy.
- You used tetracycline antibiotics when you were 8 years old or younger.
- You had trauma that affected a tooth when you were a young child. A fall, for example, may damage the developing permanent tooth.
- You had trauma in a permanent tooth, and internal bleeding discoloured the tooth.
- You were born with a rare condition called dentinogenesis imperfecta. This causes grey, amber or purple discolorations.
Age-related — this is a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Dentin naturally yellows over time. The enamel that covers the teeth gets thinner with age, which allows the dentin to show through. Foods and smoking also can stain teeth as people get older. Finally, chips or other injuries can discolour a tooth, especially when the pulp has been damaged.
Symptoms include stains on the enamel. They can range from white streaks to yellow tints or brown spots and pits. If the enamel has worn away, and dentin is showing through, you may notice a yellow tint.
No special tests are needed. A dentist or other dental professional can diagnose tooth discoloration by looking at the teeth.
Some tooth discoloration can be removed with professional cleaning. An example would be the stains caused by coffee. Many stains are permanent, however. Teeth sometimes can be whitened with a bleaching gel. In some cases, if the discoloration is severe, a crown or veneer may be required to cover it.
Brushing your teeth after every meal will help to prevent some stains. Dentists recommend that you rinse your mouth with water after having wine, coffee or other drinks or foods that can stain your teeth. Regular cleanings by a dental hygienist also will help to remove surface stains.
Intrinsic stains that are caused by damage to a nerve or blood vessel in a tooth sometimes can be prevented. You may need to have root canal treatment to remove the inner part of the tooth (the pulp) before it has a chance to decay and darken. However, teeth that have root canal treatment may darken anyway.
To prevent intrinsic stains in children, avoid too much early exposure to fluorides. Once the enamel is formed, fluoride will not discolour teeth.
When to call us
Tooth discoloration is mainly a cosmetic problem. Visit us if you’re unhappy with how your teeth look. Any change in a child’s normal tooth colour should be evaluated by a dentist.
The prognosis is very good for extrinsic stains. Intrinsic stains may be more difficult or take longer to remove.