Not All Tooth Stains Are the Same: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Stains and How They Can Be Treated

Tooth discolouration is more of an annoyance than an alarming medical condition. Having said that, a healthy white smile simply makes you feel better about yourself. It's no wonder that there are so many different types of teeth whitening treatments available for purchase. You might have seen some of the pop-up teeth whitening kiosks that can be found at many different shopping centres. It's strange that so many people seem to want to have their teeth whitened while they're on their way to buy groceries! These over-the-counter treatments are ideal for most stains on your teeth, but there are some circumstances when they won't be of much use. So how do you know if an over the counter teeth whitening product is going to work? And what can you do if the stain cannot be lifted?

What Is Extrinsic Staining?

The majority of teeth stains are classed as extrinsic. This means that only the actual surface of the tooth (the enamel) has been stained. The stain would have been developing for quite some time before it becomes noticeable. The usual suspects are generally to blame, such as cigarettes, coffee, tea, and red wine. Extrinsic stains can generally be removed (or at least significantly reduced) using an over the counter teeth whitening product. The active ingredient (peroxide) is highly effective when it comes to this type of stain removal.

What Is Intrinsic Staining?

It's when your teeth stains are classed as intrinsic that whitening them becomes more complex. A tooth is considered to have intrinsic staining when the innards of the tooth (dentine) become discoloured and is visible through the enamel, which is fairly translucent. The dentine usually becomes discoloured from exposure to tetracycline antibiotics. These tetracycline antibiotics can cause extreme tooth discolouration when dentine is going through some key developmental stages. They are generally not prescribed to children younger than 8 years old or to women in the first 18 weeks of pregnancy. Even adult usage of tetracycline antibiotics can result in intrinsic staining.  Over the counter teeth whitening products are of no use when it comes to intrinsic staining as the discolouration comes from inside the tooth itself.

How Can Intrinsic Staining Be Treated?

Intrinsic staining cannot be removed, but it can be covered up. If you visit a dental clinic, there will be a few options available. The easiest (and less expensive) option is to have a composite resin applied to the tooth, essentially covering it and therefore hiding the stain. This is a durable plastic resin and is made in a colour to match your teeth. The resin is delicately painted onto the the tooth. It dries, and the discolouration is hidden. If properly cared for, these composite resins can last for a lifetime. It can also be possible to have a veneer fitted. A veneer is a wafer-thin ceramic composite, which is fitted over the tooth and permanently bonded into place. Again, with proper care, it can last for a lifetime.

When it comes to intrinsic staining, you need to forget about the idea of an over-the-counter solution. It's a little trickier to treat these stains as opposed to extrinsic staining, but it's certainly possible!