What are intrinsic tooth stains?

Intrinsic staining is staining of the dentin, or the inner layer of teeth. It is usually caused by an internal problem or from certain medications. Intrinsic staining is harder to treat than extrinsic staining on the outer layer of teeth. It is usually treated by your dentist with non-vital whitening techniques.
Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
Intrinsic teeth staining is the result of all those varied influences that might occur during the tooth's formative years. Intrinsic staining also includes the yellowing of teeth that happens later in life, as we age. Along with wrinkled skin, sore backs and compromised eyesight, teeth just naturally yellow when we get older, although no one's sure exactly why. Intrinsic stains are much more difficult to remove.
Intrinsic stains on your teeth occur when the inner part of the tooth (called the dentin) gets a yellow tint or turns dark. Intrinsic stains may occur for the following reasons:
  • You were exposed to too much fluoride during childhood.
  • Your mother used an antibiotic. (tetracycline) during the second half of pregnancy.
  • You took antibiotics as a child (age 8 or younger).
  • You had tooth trauma as a young child, damaging the tooth.
  • You had internal bleeding in the tooth when the tooth trauma occurred.
  • You have dentinogenesis imperfecta, a rare condition that can cause tooth discolorations. 

Intrinsic tooth stains are stains that are inside the tooth. Some antibiotics such as tetracycline can stain the teeth as they are developing. Most pediatricians avoid these antibiotics in young children. Trauma to a tooth can cause bleeding inside the tooth. This can also lead to intrinsic stains. Your dentist can best advise you as the cause of your stain and recommend treatment. Some intrinsic stains can be removed with whitening while others may require crowns and veneers. Teeth that have stained from internal bleeding may require root canals followed by a whitening procedure.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.