During our everyday conversations about tooth discoloration, we’re usually referring to what has a “staining” effect on teeth. These are the things we see on toothpaste or dental product advertisements.

Discoloration can relate to more than just what is happening on the surface of our teeth. Some of these can be related to childhood development. They can include too much exposure to fluoride during childhood, trauma to a tooth, using certain types of antibiotics (tetracycline) as a child, or a condition called dentinogenesis imperfecta. Age itself can inevitably bring about dulling and discoloration of our teeth.

What stains our teeth

Generally, we can exert some control over the “staining” aspect of discoloration. You’re probably very familiar with some of the big-name worst offenders: coffee, tea and red wine.

These liquids get put front and center because tannins and acids make it easier for liquids to stain teeth. You wouldn’t want to spill them on your carpet, so if you drink any of these every day, you can be giving your teeth a nice new paint job.

It’s probably obvious that the darker stuff can stain your teeth noticeably. Lighter options like green tea or white wine can still have an effect. This is because of the nature of the liquid. Even if they won’t stain your teeth as immediately as red wine, they contain the tannins that can set your teeth up for being discolored.

Of course there are plenty of other things that can have a staining effect on our teeth that may not appear in as many of those teeth-whitening television ads.

Just like wine, fruit and fruit juices can darken your teeth. Imagine if you dropped a nice, ripe strawberry down a fresh white t-shirt. Any brightly colored food with strong pigmentation is a potential risk for staining. Sports drinks contain a ton of various food colorings, and may be one of the more habitually consumed liquids outside of coffee and tea.


The main issue with tooth staining is it relies on habit. Your teeth probably won’t be a dramatically different shade from eating strawberries every once in awhile, but if you drink coffee or tea day in and day out, you’re slowly but surely changing the color of your teeth.

That brings us to the first, almost-too-obvious-to-mention solution: avoiding the culprits. That seems a little ridiculous after going over just how many things out there can stain your teeth.

Luckily we have access to a super simple, first line of defense for stains. Drinking some water after enjoying a staining beverage such as wine or coffee can help simply rinse off some of the liquid that would normally sit around a bit on your enamel.

We can also think about what makes our teeth more porous in the first place, and this goes back to general teeth health. Sodas and highly acidic or sugary drinks can prime your teeth for discoloration.

Drinking through a straw can be a nice easy way to continue enjoying all of the staining liquids in your normal routine. It may sound silly for a glass of red wine, but could make a huge difference for that cold brew coffee or iced tea.

How to whiten

We’ve already alluded to all of that advertising for various teeth-whitening products. A smile can be the first thing you notice about a person, and how much do we all love coffee, tea, wine or the other staining culprits?

You can break whitening down into a few different tiers.

The lowest tier is whitening toothpaste. It has a very low level of whitening that really only affects some stain areas, and does not have a dramatic effect on teeth. Plus it can take a while to see results.

Over-the-counter whitening products, similar to take-home whitening and dentist-administered whitening, work on the premise of directly applying a bleaching agent to teeth. It will work over time but will be less effective than what you can get from your dentist.

Take-home whitening from a dentist, like the Zoom! DayWhite and NiteWhite options we offer, take much less time to see effects and are a great alternative to the similar over-the-counter products.

The most effective whitening treatment is dentist administered whitening, like the Zoom! in-chair treatment we offer. It relies on light-activated gel that whitens teeth to a high degree, before you even leave the office.

While surface whitening can have a pronounced effect for stained teeth, other sources of discoloration may require different approaches, like a crown or veneer.

If your source of discoloration is something other than staining, such as a root canal or internal factor, talk to us about the various options at your disposal to brighten your smile.