Teeth discoloration and its causes

Teeth discoloration and its causes


An overview of tooth discoloration

The human tooth is subject to discoloring at some point in time. This condition where the tooth gets discolored or loses its natural tone is referred to as tooth staining or tooth discoloration. When the human tooth is discolored, it loses its natural translucency, hue or color (Hargreaves and Berman, 2015). The human tooth may be externally or internally discolored. External discoloration refers to the staining on the external surface of the teeth. Conversely, internal discoloration occurs when the pigments are absorbed into the internal region of the teeth (Chi et al. 2008). At times, many factors contribute to the discoloration of the teeth (Shen, 2013).


What is the normal appearance of the teeth?

Your tooth is naturally white or somewhat milky in color. That notwithstanding, so many factors contribute to the perception and appearance of the teeth. Such factors include translucency, gloss, lighting, the brain, and the eye, light scattering, and opacity. An interaction of these factors all gives rise to the appearance of the teeth (Joiner, 2004). Nevertheless, the most influential of all these factors is the tooth’s intrinsic pigmentation. The intrinsic pigmentation of the teeth is determined by factors such as nature and genetics (Walmsley, 2007). When light interacts with your teeth, it is reflected, absorbed and transmitted by different degrees in every layer of tissues that makes up the tooth (Shen, 2013). The human eye looking at the teeth then detects the reflected light.  It is this detected light that determines the real appearance of the tooth (Shen, 2013).

The outermost part of your teeth is known as the enamel. It is white in color, and semitransparent. In some cases, the enamel adds green, blue and pink tints to the teeth (Walmsley, 2007). The next layer is known as the dentin. This dentin forms the greater portion of the tooth. It has a yellow-brown coloration, and not as transparent as the enamel (Walmsley, 2007). The overall coloration of the tooth is determined by the dentin. The dental pulp is located at the tooth’s core (Nanci, 2014). The pulp has a pink or red color due to the large supply of blood vessels running through it.

There seems to be a distorted opinion of the natural tone and appearance of the tooth. The media more or less shows off sets of dentitions that have been cosmetically enhanced.

You should note that tooth color is dependent on geographic location, gender and race (Shen, 2013). The teeth in females are slightly brighter and whiter than that in males. This may be due to the fact that theirs is smaller in size, and thus has lesser dentine compared to the male. Smaller teeth are only partly seen through the enamel. This is the reason why large teeth such as the canine and molar tend to be dark. On the other hand, deciduous teeth, also known as baby teeth are brighter and whiter than that of adults, due to variations in the dentin to enamel ratio.


What causes tooth discoloration?

Tooth discoloration is caused by a number of factors. These include:

Diet: The teeth is stained by colored foods such as wines, colas and tea. Other food substances include vegetables and fruits.

Diseases: tooth discoloration may be caused by diseases affecting the dentin and enamel. Also, some therapies and medical treatments can also cause discoloration of the tooth. For instance, radiation of the head and neck, and chemotherapy can cause discoloration of the teeth. Also, bacterial infections may affect the development of the enamel, causing the fetus (or newborn baby) to develop discolored teeth.

Not sticking to the right dental hygiene: Tooth discoloration occurs when one fails to observe proper dental hygiene. Inadequate flossing, brushing and rinsing of the mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash may fail to remove strainers thus causing tooth discoloration.

Old age: Discoloration of the tooth is enhanced by old age. As a matter of fact, old age is characterized by the wearing away of the external surface of the enamel. This exposes the color of the dentin, which is naturally yellow. Also, aging causes the wearing away of the dentin, causing a decrease in the size of the pulp. This causes the translucent nature of the teeth to reduce, and subsequent darkening of the teeth.

Medications: Children with milk teeth can suffer a tooth discoloration when given the medications doxycycline and tetracycline. Both medications are antibiotics. The discoloration is prominent in children below the age of 8. People who use mouthwashes and mouth rinses may also suffer tooth discoloration. This is due to the cetylpyridinium and chlorhexidine content of these mouthwashes. Discoloration of the teeth may also be caused by medications such as antipsychotics, antihistamines, and antihypertensive medications.

The environment: Teeth discoloration may be caused by too much fluoride. This fluoride may be from the environment (such as drinking water with high fluoride concentration) or from frequent use in certain products (such as toothpaste, rinses, supplements, and fluoride applications).

Dental equipment and materials: The teeth may have a gray-black coloration through the use of dentistry materials like amalgam restorations, especially materials that contain a high level of silver sulfide.

Genetics also contributes to the discoloration of the teeth. Naturally, some people have brighter or darker teeth.


Treating teeth discoloration

There are many ways by which the teeth may be whitened. The method of treatment used depends on the causative factor. Treatment methods commonly in use include:

  • Bonding
  • Using the right flossing techniques
  • Brushing properly
  • Veneers
  • Over-the-counter whitening agents


Preventing teeth discoloration

Staining of the teeth can be prevented if you brush your teeth properly after every meal. It is recommended that everyone should rinse their mouth with warm water after taking coffee, wine or any foods that may stain the teeth. Formation of surface stains can also be prevented when you visit a dental hygienist regularly to clean your teeth.

A damage to the blood vessel or nerve fibers in the internal part of the tooth (the pulp), may cause intrinsic staining of the tooth. This can be prevented via treatment of the root canal. Treatment of the tooth canal involves removal of organic substances before it decays and darkens the tooth. This is not to say that teeth that has undergone root canal treatment won’t darken. No! It may! But the chances are lesser.


In conclusion:

Discoloration of the teeth is more or less a cosmetic issue. If you are not satisfied with the appearance of your teeth, please consult your dentist.


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