Stained Teeth: Why it Happens and How to Fix it

Many smile emergencies that we encounter—like sensitivity, staining and even chips— are surprisingly self-imposed. “Whether you’ve overbleached your teeth, cracked a tooth or consumed staining foods and drinks, people are ruining their smiles without even realizing it,” says New York cosmetic dentist Irwin Smigel, DDS. Luckily, most mishaps are easy to fix. “Accidents happen, but modern technology allows us to correct a variety of concerns fast with little to no downtime,” says Atlanta cosmetic dentist Ronald E. Goldstein, DDS.

Have you ever been enjoying red wine at a party, only to notice your teeth looked dark and almost stained?

Why it happened:
The discoloration is staining either on the surface or inner layers of your teeth. Unfortunately, neither stain is easy to remove due to the wine’s red pigments, which lend a dark shadow-like effect. “When most people drink red wine, they swirl it around their mouths, bathing their smile in the dark pigments,” says Houston cosmetic dentist Guy M. Lewis, DDS. The pigments attach to the sticky film of plaque covering the teeth, depositing the color onto the surface of your enamel. Adds New York cosmetic dentist Irene Grafman, DDS, “Just one glass of wine is all it takes to stain your smile. If caught early enough, you may be able to brush away these stains, but repeated exposure can make the stain harder to remove due to the buildup of pigment.” When the teeth have been exposed to the pigments for a long period of time, the pigments can penetrate the pores of your teeth. “Like honey in a honeycomb, the color becomes embedded in the deeper layers of the tooth, which is why it seems like your smile is darker than normal and unresponsive to at-home efforts,” says Dr. Lewis. 

How to fix it:
In addition to rinsing with water, mouthwash is an easy way to flush away dark colored pigments. Look for those that are free of alcohol, since alcohol can dry out your mouth and be a breeding ground for bad-breath bacteria. Whitening mouthwashes can help tackle staining, too. “You can also brush with a little baking soda mixed with hydrogen peroxide to scrub the stains off—but be careful not to scrub too much,” says Newport Beach, CA, cosmetic dentist Sherri Worth, DDS

If your teeth are still stained:
The fastest way to remove stains is through in-office bleaching, which can lighten teeth up to 10 shades in one hour. But, Las Vegas cosmetic dentist Patrick Simone, DDS, explains that it does have its drawbacks. “In-office bleaching is great for those on a time crunch, but, at the end of the hour, the results are what they are, regardless of whether you’ve reached 100 percent of your whitening potential or come just short of it,” says Dr. Simone. At-home bleaching trays custom-made by your dentist can be a great adjunct or alternative. “You can use them following your in-office treatment should you desire an even whiter smile, or on their own to whiten your teeth to your desired shade of white,” says Dr. Grafman