Naturally, our teeth were created/developed white – with an inner pulp chamber, beneath a protective dentin layer, beneath a hard outer enamel surface used for chewing. Over time due to everyday habits, medications/medical conditions, and just plan old aging our teeth’s natural white gives way to stains.
There are two types of stains associated with teeth. Extrinsic stains are those that are generally caused by food and drink on the enamel and can soak through the enamel and affect the dentin, as well. Keep in mind anything that can stain clothing can also stain teeth: coffee, tea, dark-colored colas, red wine, soy sauce, syrup. These stains happen because the certain pigments in these things adhere to the protein pellicle on a tooth – a sticky substance that coats teeth. For whitening treatments of any sort to be completely effective they need to be able to remove the stains from the enamel and dentin, and to clean away this protein pellicle to prevent stains from returning right away.
The second type of staining is called “intrinsic.” It is when teeth are stained from the inside out or are discolored beneath the enamel. This can happen from overuse or overexposure to fluoride (fluoridosis) and lack of intake of adequate calcium, certain medications (usually tetracycline), and medical conditions or treatments (chemo, radiation). These stains are much harder to address because they are not just “surface” stains. In many of these cases, a professional dental whitening (which may include laser whitening) may be the only way to get rid of these stains.
For basic extrinsic staining, though, there are several natural, at-home remedies that will save you money and provide acceptable – if not perfect – results. If you can’t afford (or simply don’t want to pay for) a professional bleaching or whitening, and if you can’t be bothered trying to figure out gels and trays and convenient times when you can complete the treatment as directed without exposing your whitening efforts to the world, then perhaps these simple methods will do the trick.