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Let's Talk About: Tooth Discoloration, Part 1

Worldwide we have an obsession with bright, white teeth. They symbolize health, beauty, and youthfulness. There are things that discolor your teeth that you may not be aware of. Let's talk about it.

You already know about tea, coffee, red wine, dark sodas, fruit juice, and smoking. The common culprits of teeth staining. These are examples of extrinsic staining- stain that develops on the outside of teeth. Luckily much of that can be removed during cleanings or from bleaching. There is a different type of discoloration altogether.

Intrinsic stain physically alters the appearance and structure of the tooth so that it looks different. Sometimes it happens when a baby is still developing in the womb, sometimes it develops during growth, and other times it happens during a restoration. So what causes it?

There’s a lot to cover so I’ll break it down into two posts covering 7 different causes of intrinsic discoloration. Today I’ll cover tetracycline exposure, fluorosis, and aging.

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Tetracycline Exposure: Tetracycline is an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections. While effective, it has the negative side effect of discoloring tooth structure- even as a fetus is developing. For that reason the use of tetracycline, especially during pregnancy, has drastically been reduced. Tetracycline binds to the developing tooth enamel or dentin and permanently changes its color. It often appears as gray, purple, or brown stripes across the teeth which can correlate when it was ingested during tooth development. Typically the best way to fix this is by covering up the teeth with crowns/veneers but some cases can be improved with bleaching.

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Fluorosis: During tooth development (first 8 years of life) if too much fluoride is ingested white to brown patches can appear on the teeth. To avoid this, follow recommended  guidelines for how much fluoride a child should ingest. Fluoride has an incredibly positive effect on teeth- just keep it in the correct range by knowing your local tap water fluoride levels and supplementing from there.

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Aging/Calcific Changes: Sad but true, as we age our teeth darken. This occurs as the pulp begins to calcify (which can also result from trauma) which then causes a yellow/golden appearance to develop. At times it improves with bleaching, but there is a limit.

In part 2, I’ll cover 4 more reasons for tooth discoloration. Stay tuned!

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