(781) 396-8558 Appointment


10 Causes of Tooth Discoloration and How to Treat Them

side by side comparison of stained teeth and white teeth
Tooth discoloration is one of the most common complaints people have about the appearance of their smile. When they first notice that their teeth are discolored, many people assume they need teeth whitening

However, tooth discoloration can be a complex condition. Some types of discoloration don’t need teeth whitening, and others won’t respond to it. We recommend that you schedule a consultation with Woburn & Winchester cosmetic dentist Dr. Ryan Clancy at Divine Smiles before you start whitening your teeth. 

To give you an idea of how complicated the condition can be, here are 10 different causes of tooth discoloration and how they might be treated–and it’s not even an exhaustive list!

Staining Foods and Drinks

This is the most common cause of tooth discoloration. We consume many foods and drinks that are full of color, including:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Colas or any dark-colored sodas
  • Dark beer
  • Red wine
  • Berries
  • Chocolate

The pigments from these foods can get trapped in your tooth enamel, leading to staining. Note that acidic foods and drinks–such as white wine–can play a role in tooth discoloration, even if they don’t stain your teeth. Acidic foods roughen your teeth, and the rough surface traps more stains. 

The best treatment for staining foods and drinks is to practice good home hygiene and make regular dental checkups. Not only will your hygienist remove current stains, but the light polish they give your teeth will smooth them and make it harder for future stains to stick. 

If your teeth are still discolored after a cleaning–or get discolored before your next one–Woburn & Winchester cosmetic dentist Dr. Clancy might recommend teeth whitening. This will remove persistent stains and help your teeth stay white continually.

Cigarettes, Other Tobacco Products, and Marijuana

Smoking and other tobacco use can stain your teeth. After all, tobacco is full of dark-colored chemicals that can stain your teeth. Burning tobacco creates even more staining substances like tar. However, even smokeless tobacco products can leave residue on your teeth. Smoking marijuana also exposes your teeth to tar. 

Tobacco staining can be hard to clean off, but Woburn & Winchester cosmetic dentist Dr. Clancy has seen it respond well to teeth whitening. However, cigarettes can increase your risk of cavities and teeth erosion, which might require a different treatment approach. 


Tartar, also called dental calculus, is when the soft substance on your teeth called plaque absorbs minerals from your saliva to become rock-like deposits. These deposits are often yellow, making your teeth look discolored. Tartar also shelters oral bacteria and can increase your risk of cavities and gum disease. 

At your regular dental checkup, your hygienist will remove tartar deposits. If this reveals stained or decayed teeth, Woburn & Winchester cosmetic dentist Dr. Clancy may recommend further treatment. 

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay occurs when oral bacteria excrete acid onto your teeth, eating away at the tooth enamel. This will first lead to demineralized areas, which can be different colors, from a brighter white to a pale brown, depending on the nature and severity of the decay. Eventually, this will lead to holes developing in your teeth, called cavities or caries. 

Early demineralization might respond to a change in your diet or hygiene, but if you have cavities, Woburn & Winchester cosmetic dentist Dr. Clancy will recommend tooth-colored fillings to repair your tooth without damage.

Tooth Erosion

Tooth erosion is when the bright white outer layer of your teeth, called enamel, wears away. As the enamel thins, it lets more color from the interior of your teeth show through. Since the interior of your tooth might be yellow, brown, or gray, it can make your teeth look discolored, even if your enamel is white. 

Tooth erosion can be due to acidic foods and drinks or abrasive substances like toothpaste. Since your body can’t rebuild lost enamel, Woburn & Winchester cosmetic dentist Dr. Clancy recommends porcelain veneers or dental crowns to cover the discolored teeth.

Overuse or Misuse of Teeth Whitening

When used as directed and under the supervision of a cosmetic dentist, teeth whitening is very safe. Teeth whitening can remove some minerals from your tooth enamel, but using it as directed allows your teeth time to replace lost minerals. 

However, if you try to speed up your whitening by using it too frequently or trying to combine teeth whiteners, you might experience enamel loss, the same as with tooth erosion. This will lead your thin enamel to allow the color to show from the tooth interior. 

Another potential problem is trying “teeth whitening hacks” you might find on TikTok and other social media or Google. These whitening solutions are rarely effective, and many of them can be damaging to your teeth because they are acidic, abrasive, or both. 

Unfortunately, if your teeth are discolored for this reason, teeth whitening will no longer work. You will need to cover teeth with a restoration like porcelain veneers. 

Enamel Defects

If your teeth developed with enamel defects, dark regions in the enamel. 

In some cases, Woburn & Winchester cosmetic dentist Dr. Clancy might be able to polish away minor discolorations. Most of the time, though, you must cover teeth with this type of discoloration with porcelain veneers. 

Rusted Fillings

Old-style metal amalgam fillings start out silver. However, as a combination of metals, they can oxidize, commonly called rusting. When this happens, they turn black. Black fillings can make your entire tooth look dark in color. 

Woburn & Winchester cosmetic dentist Dr. Clancy can replace old metal fillings with more attractive modern fillings that look natural and don’t discolor your teeth. Sometimes, though, the discoloration won’t improve by simply replacing the filling. In that case, Dr. Clancy will recommend covering the tooth with a porcelain veneer or dental crown. 


Some types of antibiotics–such as tetracyclines–can integrate with your tooth enamel, making your teeth discolored. 

Some cases of antibiotic teeth staining respond to teeth whitening, though it’s slow and might not give a result as bright as you want. If you’re not happy with the results of teeth whitening, porcelain veneers work well in this situation. 

Infected Teeth

When bacteria reach the interior of your teeth–either through a cavity or crack–they create colonies, killing the natural tooth structure. The tooth might then turn dark in color. 

Root canal therapy removes the infection from the tooth. Then Woburn & Winchester cosmetic dentist Dr. Clancy will cover the discolored tooth with a dental crown. 

Get a Brighter Smile in Woburn & Winchester

If you’re unhappy with discolored teeth, Woburn & Winchester cosmetic dentist Dr. Clancy can help you find the right solution to restore the brightness and beauty of your smile. 

To learn how your smile can be brighter, please call (781) 396-8558 or use our online form today to request an appointment at Divine Smiles, serving Woburn & Winchester, MA in the Horn Pond Plaza, across from Whole Foods. 

By Ryan M. Clancy, DMD, MAGD, LVIF, FPFA, FIAPA | May 3rd, 2023 | Cosmetic Dentistry

Schedule Your Consultation With Premier Woburn Dentist Dr. Ryan Clancy

Dr. Ryan Clancy and every member of our team are here to help guide you to your healthiest, most confident smile. Take the first step by scheduling a full assessment of your concerns, and begin designing your ideal smile and personalized treatment plan.

By submitting this you agree to be contacted by Divine Smiles via text, call or email. Standard rates may apply. For more details, read our Privacy Policy.