Why do teeth darken?

Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
With each decade that we age, our teeth can get up to one to two shades darker. The color pigments inside teeth become more prominent as the dentin structure below the enamel grows. Consider the enamel to be like translucent glass, with the dentin structure shining through underneath, giving us our tooth color. Genetics play a large role in the darkening of our teeth extrinsically and intrinsically, but environmental factors, oral hygiene and nutrition also contribute to the shade of our teeth.

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Romesh Nalliah
Teeth darken for a variety of reasons. The first, and most important, is poor oral hygiene. Additionally, specific foods/drinks can accelerate stain formation between cleanings -- the tanins from teas and wines are recognized for their stain forming ability. Also, medications taken during the formation of teeth (most notably tetracycline antibiotic) and dental trauma can lead to tooth discoloration.
Teeth darken by repeated use of staining foods and beverages. Some common culprits include red wine, dark sodas, coffee, tea, blueberries, and red beets. Cigarette and cigar smoking can also cause teeth to darken. Avoiding these beverages, foods and habits can prevent your teeth from discoloring. Dentists can also whiten teeth with a variety of treatment options.
Teeth may turn dark for a number of reasons, including:
  • not brushing and flossing regularly
  • using the antibiotic tetracycline before age 8
  • drinking a lot of coffee, tea, red wine, or other discoloring beverages
  • living in a community where the water supply contains very high amounts of fluoride
  • being born with certain genetic defects that darken tooth enamel
  • having fever or certain other conditions at a very young age.
If you have darkened or stained teeth, your dentist has treatments that can help make your smile whiter.

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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.