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Stained teeth: causes and treatment

In partnership with Dr Johnson Huang

Find out what causes stained teeth and treatment options

Young man with glasses smiling at the camera and showing his teeth while wearing a white t-shirt
Young man with glasses smiling at the camera and showing his teeth while wearing a white t-shirt

Want white teeth? Welcome to the club! Studies show that in most countries, the popularity of teeth whitening is surging - particularly among those aged under 35.

If the proliferation of bright, white smiles on social media is causing you to take a closer look at your own teeth, and you’re noticing they’re more yellow-ish than pearly white, teeth whitening could be an option for you. But before you go down that path, finding out what has caused teeth staining, and how to treat it, would be a great place to start.

We hit up Clear Dental's Dr Johnson Huang to talk teeth-staining truths. 

What causes stained and yellow teeth?

Short answer? A lot!

“The most common causes of stained teeth I see are poor dental hygiene and drinks like coffee, tea and wine,” Johnson says. “And in elderly patients, certain medications can cause discolouration too.” 

Most causes fall into one of two distinct categories – stains caused by lifestyle habits and those resulting from poor dental health. 

Lifestyle habits that cause stained teeth 

  • Foods and drinks – coffee, tea, colas, wine and some starchy foods such as pasta or potatoes

  • Tobacco (chewing or smoking)

Elderly woman with grey hair sitting in the dental chair and smiling into a mirror looking at her teeth

Poor dental health habits that cause stained teeth

  • Not flossing or brushing your teeth  

  • Diseases and certain medical treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy

  • Certain medications

  • Ageing – the white outer layer of teeth gets worn away as we age

  • Genetics

  • An excess of fluoride

  • Trauma – such as sports injuries

Preventing teeth staining

There are three main ways to prevent your teeth from taking on an unappealing yellow tinge:

  • Keep up great oral health habits – that means flossing your teeth every day and brushing both morning and night

  • Cut back on tooth-staining foods (think: tea, coffee, red wine). And if you do partake, make a point of brushing and flossing, or at least swishing some water around your mouth, after you’ve eaten them

  • Quit smoking – contact Quitline if you need support

Ways to treat stained and yellow teeth

OK, so you have stained and yellow teeth, now what? Great news – in many cases, reversing teeth stains is possible.

Consulting with a dentist is key – and not just for cosmetic reasons. A dentist can tailor a treatment plan to the cause of staining, and any underlying problems will be ruled out too. 

“Even though the condition doesn’t cause any immediate harm or symptoms, ongoing stained teeth can be a warning signal of oral dental deterioration,” Johnson explains.

Your dentist can often remove superficial stains using tools like ultrasonic scalers and prophy jets, says Johnson. And if they’re deeper than that, peroxide-based whitening systems such as Zoom and Pola White might be the best approach. While there are plenty of at-home whitening options out there, there are risks involved in using them. The safest way to whiten teeth is by visiting your dentist, says the Australian Dental Association.

“In rare cases, however, whitening doesn’t work,” Johnson adds. “In these cases, dental veneers can be a very good alternative to discoloured teeth.” 

Ready to visit a dentist, but not sure where to start? If you currently hold nib Extras cover, your first port of call should be First Choice Dental network. This is our community of specially selected health providers who promise to deliver both quality care and value for money – meaning low (and in some instances no) out-of-pocket costs1.

The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner. 

1For eligible members

A black and white photo of Dr Johnson Huang smiling at the camera

In partnership with

Dr Johnson Huang

Ranging from restorations to practice management, Dr Johnson Huang has an unwavering passion for general dentistry and to constantly provide the highest quality of care to his patients. Many patients have been seeing Dr Huang for a number of years since he is friendly, approachable, and explains options well to his patients. Now with five locations in the Sydney metropolitan area and expanding, Dr Huang delivers his vision and patient care philosophy more readily than ever.