What Causes Tooth Discoloration?


Tooth discoloration can bring unwanted attention to your smile. It may even make you want to hide your smile altogether. Luckily, there are treatment options so you can feel confident about your smile again!

We perform teeth whitening treatments right here in our Point Pleasant, NJ office. Dr. Zicchino can diagnose and begin treating your discolored teeth as soon as possible.

In this post, we discuss what causes tooth discoloration and how it’s treated so you can keep your teeth bright and healthy.

Types of Tooth Discoloration

There are many factors that cause tooth discoloration, but first, we need to cover the types of discoloration.


Extrinsic tooth discoloration is a result of outside factors and can usually be fixed with teeth whitening treatment. In other words, it’s caused by certain things coming into contact with your teeth including:

  • Dark Pigments from foods or drinks such as berries, dark soda, red wine, and coffee
  • Tobacco
  • Smoke


There is often little you can do about intrinsic tooth discoloration because it is caused by factors within your teeth or body. Intrinsic stains are more difficult to remove with at-home whitening products and typically require the help of a professional.

This can be from:

  • Tooth injury or trauma
  • Medication
  • Disease
  • Genetics


Tooth discoloration occurs naturally as we age. It is caused by extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Extrinsic discoloration occurs from years of wear from brushing and eating. Intrinsically, our teeth lose density from lower absorption of vitamin D and calcium.

What Causes Tooth Discoloration?

There are several reasons why your teeth might be discolored. Most of the time, tooth discoloration is the result of bad habits, but other times there is very little you can do about it.

Dark Colored Foods & Drinks

Consuming anything that’s dark in color can quickly stain your teeth. Microscopic grooves and pores can trap these dark pigments. This makes conventional brushing ineffective at removing them from your teeth.


Smoking cigarettes and cigars are among the worst things you can do for oral health. These habits can cause discoloration of your teeth in just a few days, as the toxins in smoke coat and stain teeth.

According to the CDC, smokers have double the chance of developing periodontal disease as a nonsmoker does. Gum disease can cause additional discoloration because neglecting periodontal disease will cause your teeth to deteriorate and turn brown or black along your gum line.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Without proper oral hygiene, your teeth will become discolored. Pigments will set in and stain your teeth. Similar to grass stains on your jeans, the quicker you take care of the stains, the easier they are to remove.

Besides simple staining, poor oral hygiene leads to a buildup of plaque. Plaque can turn to tartar when you allow it to accumulate and sit on your teeth and gum line. It will come in the form of a hard yellow layer along the base of your teeth.


Unfortunately, tooth discoloration caused by disease is harder to treat since it’s out of your control.

The following diseases cause discoloration in your teeth by reducing the absorbable levels of nutrients essential for good dental health.

  • Renal/Liver Diseases – Renal failure and many diseases that affect the kidneys drain calcium levels from your blood.
  • Cancer – Many cancers can prevent valuable nutrients from being absorbed to help your teeth. Negative effects on your teeth are especially prevalent in those going through chemotherapy and radiation. They often lose bone density and experience enamel degeneration.
  • Osteoporosis – Osteoporosis causes a severe deficiency in vitamin D, which is another key nutrient in maintaining healthy teeth.


Several medicines cause a dry mouth. This indirectly causes tooth discoloration by leading to periodontal disease and tooth decay. Some common types of medications that cause dry mouth are:

  • ADHD Medicines
  • Antacids
  • Antidepressants
  • Antihistamines
  • Blood Pressure Medicines
  • Decongestants
  • Diabetes Medicines
  • Pain Relievers

To mitigate the effects of these types of medicines, stay hydrated and try a daily dry-mouth mouth rinse.


Over the years, our teeth endure tens of thousands of meals and cleaning sessions that erode our enamel. When our enamel gets too thin, the dentin starts showing through. This can cause our teeth to appear slightly yellow or gray.


Trauma to teeth can cause them to appear dark. This is the result of the pulp inside the tooth being damaged, causing something like a bruise. If the trauma was severe enough, the pulp could die, prompting the need for root canal treatment.

What Causes Each Color of Tooth Discoloration?

When most people think of tooth discoloration, they usually only think of yellowed teeth. However, discoloration of your teeth can come in many shades and colors. Below are the most common colors of tooth discoloration and what causes them.


Yellow teeth are common because so many factors play into them turning yellow. Some of the most common contributors to yellow teeth are:

  • Smoking
  • Tobacco Use
  • Poor Oral Hygiene
  • Aging


Gray or blue-looking teeth can be concerning, but they are fairly common. If your teeth have a gray or blue tint to them, it is usually the result of:

  • Aging
  • Trauma

Graying of the teeth is somewhat normal in older people who still have their natural teeth, as they have gone through a lifetime of wearing down their enamel. However, if one or more of your teeth becomes gray or blue after trauma, it is because the pulp is damaged. Oftentimes, this causes the pulp to die completely and warrants root canal treatment.


Browning of the teeth can be caused by a few things. For example, there are less serious reasons such as excessive consumption of:

  • Coffee
  • Dark Tea

A more serious cause of browning teeth is:

  • Tooth Decay

Tooth decay can only get treated with professional intervention, so it’s important to seek dental treatment as soon as possible.


Black teeth are rarely present without a lot of sensitivity or pain leading up to them turning this color. Any black teeth are severely decayed or damaged, and they are on the verge of falling out.

If you notice any part of your tooth turning black, you should schedule an appointment immediately.

White Spots

White spots are caused by fluorosis. It is the result of ingesting too much fluoride over time. Fluorosis is most common in kids who accidentally swallow too much toothpaste or mouthwash. However, adults can get it in the same way, but it is less common since they are more mindful about ingesting these things.

Another way to get it is from tap water. A 2018 study found that about 73% of public water sources in America contain the recommended fluoride amount. However, there are cases of water having too much, resulting in fluorosis.

How to Fix Tooth Discoloration

Treatment for tooth discoloration is dependent upon the reason for discoloration. Each cause has its protocol and methods for restoring your smile.

Stained Teeth

Stained teeth are the easiest to correct. You can utilize whitening treatments or use whitening toothpaste at home.

To keep teeth white for longer, avoid habits such as using tobacco products and eating and drinking things with dark pigmentation.

Enamel Loss

Once enamel is gone, it won’t come back. However, enamel strengthening toothpaste and mouthwashes can help to remineralize your teeth.

These products can be used with teeth whitening treatments to restore your smile.

If you are facing severe enamel loss, you may not be a good candidate for some teeth whitening treatments. It could cause severe sensitivity or tooth damage. When enamel gets too thin, one of the only viable options is to get a set of dental crowns.


Unfortunately, trauma-based tooth discoloration is difficult to correct. The first procedure that dental professionals will try is root canal therapy. This is usually successful, but may not be suitable for a long-term fix. It may help the discoloration but could result in the need to replace the tooth with an implant or dental bridge.

Get a Whiter Smile in Point Pleasant, NJ

White teeth signify that your teeth are healthy and well taken care of, while discolored teeth can be a sign of an underlying issue. Book a visit online or give us a call today to start your journey to a brighter smile!

About the Author

Dr. Joseph Zicchino provides a wide array of cosmetic dentistry services, including Invisalign® Clear Aligners, at his practice in Point Pleasant, NJ. He earned his dental degree from NYU Dental School and established Coastal Dental Group in 2004. For more information call (732) 714-1030 or to schedule an appointment!