What causes teeth to discolor in the first place? Some degree of teeth discoloration comes with age but certain habits factor in.

Extrinsic stains

Stains of the teeth that come about from food, beverages or habits like smoking are characterized as “extrinsic stains”.

Extrinsic stains only affects the enamel of the teeth.

Tobacco products,drinks such as dark colored soda, tea, coffee, red wine, food like tomato sauce, curries and soy sauce can cause discoloration of the teeth over time.

Acidic food and drinks cause the enamel of teeth to be more susceptible to staining.

Intrinsic stains

Intrinsic stains are embedded in the tooth structure.

Intrinsic stains come about during development of the teeth due to certain antibiotics and medication taken during that time.

Trauma, such a as a fall, can also cause the teeth to discolor as well.

Worn down enamel

Color changes in the teeth also occur when the enamel of the teeth are gradually worn away, and the dentin layer (yellower by nature) shows through more. This happens naturally with age but the process can be accelerated, for example by tooth grinding (bruxism) or excessive heavy handed brushing.


Some people have white spots lesions on teeth known as Fluorosis.

This condition presents itself as super white spots.

Large doses of fluoride in our diet during teeth development can lead to this.

However some people presents with the condition after having had orthodontic treatment. In these instances, the white spot lesions come about due to poor oral hygiene. The tooth structures start to break down and then re-mineralize to a different, more intense white.

If there are so many different causes of teeth discoloration, how does one choose a system to whiten teeth? First and foremost, it is important to make an appointment with a dentist to discuss your needs and ideals. The dentist will do a thorough examination and then offer the right treatment modality for you.

There are many different teeth whitening options available in the market nowadays and it is easy to buy something online or at the pharmacy.But why is it important to consult with a dental professional?

A dentist will:

  1. Do a thorough exam. The teeth and gums should be healthy prior to whitening to minimize sensitivity during the whitening process.
  2. Decipher the types of stains and advise on the best whitening option for the individual patient.
  3. Note that dental crowns, fillings on teeth will not whiten like natural teeth and may need further restorative methods only offered by a dentist.

What are some teeth whitening methods recommended by the dentist?

Over the counter products

Whitening toothpastes are the most commonly available. Whitening toothpastes contain small abrasive particles, and some additional mild chemicals to help further the stain removal process. Whitening toothpaste does not change the shade of the teeth but help remove light surface stains in order to “brighten up”.Coupled with a dental cleaning to remove plaque and tartar, this may satisfy the majority of the patients.

However if you want to change the shade of the teeth, for example, discoloration caused by smoking or dietary habits, then a more intensive method will be needed.

Bleaching Trays

Bleaching trays made at a dental office is custom fitted to the patient’s teeth. Depending on the concentration of bleaching material use, one would normally wear the trays for a period of 1-2 hours for about 2 weeks. You are in control using this method since you can decrease the time wearing the trays if you experience sensitivity. You would also have the trays available in the future to bleach again by just buying bleaching gel refills from the dental offices.

Laser Teeth Whitening

Laser teeth whitening is available at some dental offices. This method uses heat to activate the bleaching material. However in such cases, the practitioner has to be very careful not to overheat the teeth and gum.

Zoom! Chairside Whitening

Zoom! Chairside whitening is the most popular brand of chairside whitening today.

This technology uses a special ultraviolet light to activate the peroxide particles in the bleaching gel.

The special light shines on all the teeth at once so you can bleach upper and lower teeth all together.

The Zoom! Chairside light filters out the infrared rays so there is less heat on the teeth and gums.

In less than an hour and a half, the teeth would have significantly lighten in shades.

Please note

In house teeth whitening being advertised at spas and salons use a reduced concentration of bleaching material.

Only dental offices are sanctioned to offer the highest concentration of bleaching material approved by regulatory boards.

Spas and Salons are not able to help their customers deal with dental sensitivities or advise on other options should bleaching be unsuitable.

There are some patients that have very deep stains that cannot be lightened with high concentration bleaching.

In other cases the patients may have highly restored teeth with existing fillings or dental crowns. All these fillings and dental crowns will not lighten their inherent color with bleaching.As such, new fillings, porcelain veneers and, or new dental crowns may be the treatment of choice.

Dr. Gladys Lim Hsin Hsin earned her doctorate in dental surgery (DDS) at the School of Dentistry of the University of California in San Francisco. She is a member of the American Dental Association, the California Dental Association, and the Singapore Dental Association.Born in Singapore, Gladys spent 20 years in the United States before venturing home. With 14 years of clinical experience in private practice, Gladys has a fondness for family dentistry.