A smile is often considered one of the most attractive traits. That is, of course, if a smile features pearly whites that are properly aligned and glowingly white. What if your teeth are darker, though?

You should know that it’s natural for teeth to darken or yellow somewhat with age, but there are a variety of other ways in which teeth could become discolored. The good news is that there are treatment options to regain the beautiful, bright smile of your youth, but you’ll need to start by understanding the types and causes of tooth discoloration. Here’s what you should know.

AGE-RELATED DISCOLORATION

There are two reasons why our teeth appear to yellow as we age. First, the enamel that protects our teeth erodes from wear and tear over time, and this exposes the dentin within. In addition, dentin naturally yellows with time. These two factors mean that as we age, our teeth take on a yellow hue. This is why white teeth are generally associated with youth.

There is a pretty easy fix for this dilemma, though: teeth whitening. You can try over-the-counter products like whitening toothpaste, gels, and strips, but you’re going to see far better results from professional methods of whitening like bleaching trays or in-office laser whitening treatments.

EXTRINSIC DISCOLORATION

This refers to any discoloration that affects the exterior of your teeth, and it is most commonly associated with food stains. The foods and beverages you consume may contain any number of harmful substances that stain your tooth enamel. Coffee, tea, and wine are among the worst offenders because they contain natural staining agents (and many people consume them frequently).

Soda and other foods that contain a lot of chemical dyes can also stain your teeth over time. Of course, the use of tobacco products is another source of extrinsic discoloration. Cutting back on these items can help to prevent extrinsic stains, but if you want to address staining, you’ll find that abrasive toothpastes (like those containing baking soda) can help, as can whitening products and procedures.

INTRINSIC DISCOLORATION

This is a much more difficult type of staining to treat because it is within your teeth instead of on the surface. Intrinsic discoloration could be caused by medications like tetracycline, early exposure to fluoride, tooth trauma, or even a rare condition known as dentinogenesis imperfecta, and the dark, internal stains can be especially hard to get rid of. The best solution is often to hide the stains with bonding or veneers.

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