Dark teeth and tooth discoloration is a reality many people will have to face in their lives. Here’s what you should know about its causes and how to fix it if it’s affecting your overall self-esteem.

What causes dark teeth and tooth discoloration?

There are two kinds of tooth discoloration: extrinsic and intrinsic. They share many of the same dark teeth causes, with a few notable exceptions.

  • Extrinsic tooth discoloration: Extrinsic tooth discoloration is just what it sounds like. The outer layer of the tooth material (the enamel) becomes stained.
  • Intrinsic tooth discoloration: Intrinsic tooth discoloration targets the interior of the tooth (the dentin). This soft, pulpy tissue can become stained for a number of different reasons.

Dark teeth causes are many. Some causes are specific to a particular age group, but some of them can happen across demographics. Regardless of age, some dark teeth causes are preventable, while others are not.

Food and drink

The most common cause of extrinsic staining is from food and drink. The most common culprits of extrinsic tooth discoloration are:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Wine
  • Soda

Smoking also causes dark teeth. Eating large amounts of foods like cranberries, blueberries, and soy sauce can also result in tooth discoloration. While staining can occur at any age, discoloration from food or drink generally occurs over time.

Antibiotic use

Tetracycline is an antibiotic linked to tooth discoloration in children under eight and women in the second half of their pregnancy.

Why these two groups in particular are affected in this way is not clearly understood, but intrinsic staining occurs frequently for them.

Overuse of fluoride

It seems an unfair trick that the same solution that protects your child’s teeth can also make then turn yellow, but it’s true.

Excessive fluoride use in young children has been linked to tooth discoloration.

Age-related tooth discoloration

Age-related dark teeth causes manage to combine causes of extrinsic and intrinsic tooth discoloration.

A perfect storm of years’ worth of drinking wine, coffee, and tea, plus maybe smoking and taking antibiotics, begins to stain the teeth outside and yellow the teeth inside. Additionally, as we age our enamel begins to thin. This makes discoloration more pronounced.


We are born with a natural tendency to lighter or darker teeth.

Lifestyle (e.g., smoking and drinking coffee) can exacerbate dark teeth. It may not be apparent when we are born, but as we age our teeth will naturally darken. The degree to which this happens is the fault of genetics.

Trauma or dental work

A blow to the mouth or receiving dental work like a root canal can affect the nerves in the tooth. This may also cause discoloration.

Children and young adults are more likely to suffer tooth discoloration due to trauma. Older adults tend to have more dental work and suffer from dark teeth due to that.

Failing dental restorations

Dental restorations (e.g. crowns and veneers) can cause tooth discoloration around the margins of the restoration. In some cases, spots may also appear.

Poor dental hygiene

Tooth discoloration can be a direct result of debris on the teeth becoming stained.

This can occur in hard-to-clean areas of the teeth (like the gumline or behind the teeth). Tooth discoloration due to poor dental hygiene can occur at any age.


The beginnings of tooth decay and deterioration of enamel may show up as white or brown spots on the teeth. Cavity affects all ages and can cause dark teeth as decay progresses.

How can I treat tooth discoloration?

The type of teeth discoloration treatment you need depends largely on the type of tooth discoloration you have and the cause behind your dark teeth.

Yellow teeth discoloration treatment

Yellow teeth are most often caused by food and age-related darkening.

Tetracycline use can also cause intrinsic darkening that can be difficult to treat. For yellow extrinsic tooth discoloration, many patients have great success with over-the-counter whitening systems. For more stubborn stains, in-office tooth whitening treatments can lighten teeth considerably.

Prevention is key here. Drinking beverages through a straw to avoid contact with teeth can help resist staining. Quitting smoking and rinsing the mouth with water after consuming foods that stain can also help.

Treatment for tooth discoloration due to excessive fluoride and tetracycline use include whitening treatments in the dentist’s office, too. In some cases, staining is so resistant that dental bonding or dental veneers may be a good option.

Treatments for grey stains on teeth

Root canals and trauma to the teeth are largely responsible for dark teeth with a blue or grey cast to them. In this case, it is important to determine if the tooth itself is still viable or if it is actually a bad tooth.

If the tooth is damaged beyond repair, extraction may be the best choice. Once your tooth is removed, you have many options for replacement, including dental implants and partial bridges.

If the tooth is not damaged beyond repair but does have decay, it is important to remove the decay and add a filling (or a crown if necessary). Decay left untreated can spread to neighboring teeth and wreak havoc in your mouth.

How to get rid of brown stains on teeth

Brown stains on teeth have a number of different treatments, each dependent on the cause.

If staining of the tooth is due to cavity, the first step needs to be cavity treatment to stop the decay. A cavity can be filled with composite resin, a tooth-colored filling that can be color-matched to your natural teeth.

Similarly, brown tooth discoloration caused by failing dental restorations may mean replacing the original dental restoration.

Perhaps the most important cure for all causes of stained teeth is an ounce of prevention.

While you cannot help your genetic makeup, you can control your dental hygiene. Brush twice a day, floss at least once daily, and use a non-alcoholic mouthwash at least once a day. Regular check-ups with your dentist can help keep your pearly whites shiny and bright.

Concerned about your smile? Get in touch with AZ Dentist, your Phoenix area cosmetic dentist, today to learn how you can get the pearly whites you’ve been dream of.

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