Teeth Stains: Causes, Prevention & Removal

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

Unremoved stains on teeth will result in tooth discolorations that are socially undesirable. When left untreated, it can transform the natural color of teeth to darker shades of yellow, brown, or other colors.

We will discuss what the causes of this phenomenon are and how to remove the stains so that you can restore your tooth color.


What are stains on teeth?

Teeth stains are an oral condition where tooth surface discolorations that make your teeth appear less white. These stains often discolor your teeth to a more yellow and brown color. Although the color can also be as diverse as blue, green, orange, etc.

Most commonly they are the result of the foods, lifestyle habits, or poor oral hygiene. However, they can also be due to developmental disorders.

The bottom line is that tooth discoloration is undesirable but fortunately, they can be removed. The ideal beauty standard is having white teeth.

Types of teeth stains

There are two different types of stains on teeth, extrinsic and intrinsic stains.

  • Extrinsic stains – stains or discolorations located on the exterior tooth surface.
  • Intrinsic stains – stains or discolorations located on the interior tooth surface.

However, it is important to note that unremoved extrinsic tooth stains can work their way deeper into enamel and become quasi intrinsic stains.

Extrinsic stains chart

Extrinsic stain colorSource
GreenChromogenic bacteria an fungi
BlackIron, manganese, and silver in saliva
OrangeChromogenic bacteria from poor oral hygiene
BrownTobacco, tannin beverages, stannous fluoride, chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium chloride
YellowOral biofilm
Blue-GreenMercury and lead dust
RedBetel nuts and Betel leaves

Intrinsic stains chart

Intrinsic stainsSource
Dental Fluorosis (white and brown pitted enamel)Excessive fluoride during tooth development
HypocalcificationHigh fever during enamel formation
Demineralization (white or brown spots)Acid erosion
Tetracycline (greyish brown discoloration)Tetracycline during tooth development


The most common cause for teeth to stain is due to the consumption of staining foods and beverages which are often vividly colored. Although your teeth can also discolor from other causes which may be completely out of your control.

Staining from lifestyle choices:

  • Colored foods and beverages. Coffee, tea, and red wine are notorious for making your teeth more yellow. If the food can stain a white t-shirt, it can stain your enamel. This includes colored mouthwash like Listerine.
  • Smoking. Smokers often have teeth that are more yellow.
  • Poor oral hygiene. Plaque and tartar will accumulate and incorporate stains from everything that you eat. Therefore a lackluster oral hygiene routine exacerbates the staining on teeth.
Trader joes cold brew coffee concentrate

Non-lifestyle tooth discoloration causes:

  • Genetics. Everyone’s natural tooth color will vary from person to person.
  • Dental trauma. Trip & falls, accidents, and sports injuries can cause trauma that results in a dead tooth which turns into a grey color.
  • Aging. As you grow older, natural wear and tear of your dentition can erode the whiter enamel layer while revealing the darker dentin.
  • Dental treatments. While not as common anymore, amalgam (silver) fillings can make your teeth look darker.
  • Excessive fluoride. Excessive fluoride in your drinking water can lead to fluorosis or mottled enamel. The former has white spots while the latter has brown spots.
  • Certain diseases. Some health conditions cause teeth discoloration, including liver disease, celiac disease, calcium deficiency, eating disorders and metabolic diseases.
  • Certain medications. Some medications, like chlorhexidine, amoxicillin, tetracycline, doxycycline, antihistamines and drugs for high blood pressure, can result in tooth discoloration. These are just a couple of examples.
  • Cancer treatmentsChemotherapy especially head and neck radiation can cause tooth discoloration.


Most extrinsic tooth staining can be removed at home if you’re proactive and treat them early.

However, if left untreated for an extended period of time, these stains can progress and become intrinsic stains. Once this occurs, at home remedies may be insufficient and you will need professional help from your dentist.

Key points:

  • Extrinsic stains can be removed mechanically or bleached chemically.
  • Intrinsic stains can only be removed by chemical bleaching.

How to remove stains from teeth at home

Extrinsic stains on teeth can be removed with good oral hygiene practices in combination with over the counter teeth whitening products.

How to remove tooth stains at home:

  • Whitening toothpaste. Brushing twice a day with a whitening toothpaste can get rid of extrinsic staining because most dentifrices have mild abrasives. These abrasives can abrade away or scrub away the stains on your teeth. Although whitening toothpastes with hydrogen peroxide are more effective than those without it.
  • Whitening mouthwash. Rinsing with a whitening mouthwash can brighten your teeth since they do contain peroxide.
  • OTC teeth whitening. This involves using teeth whitening strips, pens, trays, etc. These are all products which contain peroxide albeit at a lower concentration than their professional counterpart.
Optic white toothpastes - renewal and advanced

The methods above are effective enough to even correct mild intrinsic tooth discoloration. Although if it becomes more severe than that, you will need to see a dentist for help.

How to get rid of teeth stains professionally

Moderate-severe tooth staining (both extrinsic & intrinsic) will require the assistance of a dentist to remove. These cases are beyond what you can manage at home because the products that you have available aren’t potent enough to even scratch the surface.

How your dentist removes stains on teeth:

  • Dental cleaning. The dental hygienist will get rid of the calculus covering the surfaces of your teeth with ultrasonic and hand scalers. The tartar often picks up unsightly stains such as from smoking which results in black tartar.
  • In-office whitening.
  • Take home trays.
  • Indirect restorations. If the tooth discoloration cannot be corrected with whitening, the last resort is to do veneers, crowns, or dental bondings to cover up the color.

Prior to using any of the professional whitening products, it is recommended that you get your teeth cleaned first. This is to remove all of the plaque and tartar which may be covering your teeth thus preventing the whitening gels from working maximally.

While you can still do it without it but it won’t be as effective. Get your dental check up prior to starting to maximize your results.


Preventing stains from developing on your teeth will save you the trouble of trying to get rid of them. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Tips on preventing teeth stains:

  • Improve oral hygiene. Brushing your teeth twice daily with a whitening toothpaste can remove and prevent most of the stains from forming. If you can do it after every meal, it would be even more effective.
  • Minimize staining foods. The vast majority of stains are due to the foods/beverages that we eat and drink. If you consume less of them, your teeth won’t be as yellow.
  • Regular dental visits. Tartar build up cannot be removed at home, routine dental cleanings can help get rid of them along with the built up stains.
  • Whiten periodically. Using an OTC whitening product every once in a while can go a long way in preventing your teeth from staining. We call this whitening maintenance.

When to seek help

If you’ve been trying at home products to get whiter teeth and you haven’t seen any improvements after 1-2 weeks, you should get a cosmetic consultation. Your dentist can give you better tips on how to make them whiter.

If no at home techniques work, you can always give the professional options a try. This may be the only option for the severe intrinsic stains such as from tetracycline use.

Nonetheless, don’t forget that teeth sensitivity is a well known adverse effect from whitening. It should subside within a week after you stop using the products.


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