How Teeth Become Discolored

Teeth can become discolored for many reasons. Most apply to poor hygiene. Coffee, tea and tobacco are three culprits that come to mind. Those are just the tip of the iceberg, however.

The problem is that by the time we realize that our teeth have seriously deteriorated in color, enough time has gone by that we usually have some type of dental health problem which must be addressed before we can even begin to think about “cosmetic” procedures.

Any type of dental disease makes the enamel of the teeth vulnerable to ugly discoloration.

What are some of the common problems dentists see in their patients that lead to dental disease, destruction and discoloration? Let’s review some of what they have to say:

Abscessed tooth. Infection of the tissue surrounding a tooth that usually fills with pus which has a very smelly odor.

Alcoholism. Immoderate use of alcohol causes decreased production of saliva causing dryness of the mouth. Dry mouth is a leading cause of tooth decay.

Atrophic rhinitis. This is an inflammation of the nasal mucous membrane usually a result of nasal drip due to colds or sinusitis. Bacterial changes in the mouth can increase risk for dental disease.

Cancers. Cancers such as esophageal, pharyngeal, oral tumors, leukemia, pulmonary and stomach cancer all present severe complications due to the decay that is taking place. Additionally, the medical treatments for these cancers can exacerbate a problem with bad breath and certain medications can cause severe discoloration of the teeth.

Oral Candida. This is a fungal infection of the mouth cavity. Also known as thrush, it is fairly common among infants, diabetics, chemotherapy patients and people with HIV or AIDS.

Cavities. Cavities are much less prevalent today than they were in the middle of the last century. The reason is attributed to the good education with regard to dental health.

Diabetes. People who have diabetes may also have poor teeth. This occurs because of poor control of blood sugar, the problem with most diabetics. The two situations go hand in hand. Gum disease is a problem for diabetics. And, diabetes is a problem for people with gum disease.

It can be difficult to determine which comes first, the diabetes or the gum disease, but the underlying problem is clear. High blood sugar contributes to gum disease. Diabetics have trouble controlling their high blood sugar. Gum disease is a leading cause of bad breath, hence the correlation.

The American Dental Association reports that people with type 1 diabetes 5 are at greater risk for gingivitis.

Drugs and drug abuse. Certain drugs such as antihistamines, antidepressants, blood pressure meds, steroids, cancer therapy drugs, diuretics and oral contraceptives are all known to increase the propensity for gum disease.

Drug abuse is a different matter entirely. This is a sad footnote to our culture today. A study conducted in 2003 revealed that 12.3 million Americans 12 years old and over tried methamphetamine at least once. This number is staggering when you consider that represents 5.2% of our population.

Not only are the health risks tremendous but the damage to the teeth is often irreversible. Dentists have reported that the teeth of methamphetamine users are described as rotting, black, stained and literally falling apart and crumbling. The drug is highly acidic and reduces the production of saliva. Users tend to grind their teeth and crave sugar in any form. The drug also remains in the system for up to 12 hours prolonging the exposure during a period when the user probably will not even consider brushing or flossing. Removal of the teeth is often the only course of action.

Eating disorders. We have mentioned that vomiting is a known cause of bad breath. Hand in hand with vomiting are potentially dangerous disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.

Bulimia involves the practice of repeated binge eating followed up by self-induced vomiting called “purging” and is normally done secretly. The reasons for engaging in this practice are different for each participant. However, it is generally accepted by the medical community that those who suffer from bulimia eat for “comfort.” They use food as a therapy and consume large amounts to induce inner feeling of well being. It appears to temporarily drive away feelings of anger, loss, sadness and other negative, human conditions. Each time they binge, they need to purge so they can recapture the emotional band-aids they get while binging. It is an extremely dangerous practice.

The purging process is also accomplished by fasting, taking diet pills or using diuretics. Not only does the practice rapidly deplete the body of natural resources, it also creates a dry mouth situation which causes decay. If you know of someone who you suspect may be on a damaging “binge eating” program watch for the warning signs. If you suspect they may be engaged in this behavior, intervention may be in order.

Anorexia is also extremely harmful. While it may manifest itself in some of the same ways as bulimia, it is different in that the victim has a fear of weight gain and even the slightest ounce of body fat just can’t be tolerated. Rather than binging and purging, purging is the tool of preference for people who suffer from anorexia.

Body piercing. Our purpose of discussion that relates to body piercing is obviously directed toward oral piercing. It is not our intent to make any judgment of the practice, merely to point out some of the risks involved for those who choose to engage in this kind of activity.

The most obvious risk factor is infection which can occur when there is a lesion on any part of the body. However, as we know that the mouth is the perfect environment for bacteria to grow, whether it is “good” bacteria or “bad” bacteria.

You might think that the risk is greater at the time of piercing and that would be correct. However, continual handling of the jewelry after placement greatly increases the odds of infection down the road. Oral piercing may also put you at risk for blood contamination and increase the possibility of hepatitis B, C, D and G. Damage to the blood vessels in the tongue or cheek can induce prolonged bleeding and in some cases nerve damage can occur. Just having the jewelry in the mouth can damage the soft tissue around the teeth causing the gums to recede. Constant clicking of the jewelry against natural and/or restored teeth can cause the enamel or veneers to crack or chip.

Oral jewelry can also create more saliva than is necessary. Some people have reported problems with speech and a pronounced reduction in the ability to pronounce words properly. Others say that their ability to chew was impaired.

Another worst case scenario is the risk of having the jewelry dislodge causing a dangerous choking situation or even swallowing the jewelry and having it end up in the digestive tract which is dangerous itself.

Finally, there is no doubt that having a foreign body in your mouth is going to create a poor environment for healthy teeth. Keeping the area around the piercing 100% clean 100% of the time is impossible. It only takes a few tiny particles lodged in or around the entrance and exit of the jewelry stud to create tooth decay. And, that’s even before you add in the factors discussed above.

Dry mouth. Sounds like such an innocuous little phrase, doesn’t it? Thought to be one of the leading causes of dental disease, dry mouth occurs when saliva production is reduced and carries its own nasty little package of problems.

The medical term for dry mouth is “xerostomia” (pronounced ZEER-oh-STOH-mee-ah). Saliva performs vital work in your body. It aids in digestion by using the enzymes to help break up different foods and also makes it easier to talk.

Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by rinsing away food particles from between the teeth as well as the gums. Saliva also helps you taste the food you eat and makes it easier for you to swallow that food and is also known for neutralizing any damaging acids.

The symptoms of dry mouth can include: Dry, rough tongue, Poor sense of taste, burning sensation in your mouth, increased plaque, and reduced saliva production

Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS and stroke are also attributed to causing dry mouth as well as pregnancy and/or hormonal changes due to menopause.

Increasing fluid intake can help to re-hydrate the mouth. It’s important to keep it moist so you don’t lose all the benefits provided by saliva production.

Gum disease/Gingivitis. This is inflammation of soft tissue surrounding the teeth. This condition is much more serious than a single abscess. Gingivitis is the precursor to periodontitis which is the final step of gum disease that can ultimately lead to tooth loss. This will be discussed in depth a bit further on.

Impacted tooth. An impacted tooth is one that rebelliously will not erupt into its proper position and most often results in infection, which we know is another cause of bad breath and ultimately can result in loss of the tooth.

Periodontal disease. It’s hard to believe that in a 2002 poll of 1,000 Americans over the age of 35, it was determined that 60% of adults polled knew little or nothing about gum disease! A tragedy when you consider that gum disease is the leading factor in tooth loss, even healthy teeth.

Your teeth can appear to be healthy and disease free, when under the surface gum disease can stalwartly march on creating a condition that will ultimately lead to serious tooth loss. Bad breath is a “red flag” to help determine if this problem is prevalent in your mouth.

Healthy gum tissue forms a shallow groove at the point where the tooth meets the gum line. This disease occurs when the anaerobic, sulfur producing bacteria, become trapped beneath the gum line. Not recognizing and dealing with the problem will result in serious dental problems up to and including loss of teeth and even underlying bone disease. If you are diagnosed with serious periodontal disease, work to save your teeth needs to begin as soon as possible.

Pharyngitis. This is an inflammation in the area at the back of the mouth known as the Pharynx as usually occurs because of a virus. This is the same area where you begin to feel a slight “scratchiness” at the onset of a cold or flu. The bacteria involved can lead to more serious streptococcus, commonly known as “strep throat.” If it progresses it can be highly contagious and because it is bacterial it will produce bad breath and possible tooth decay.

Poor dental hygiene. We have discussed some of the leading causes of dental disease, but nothing matches poor dental hygiene as a leading cause of tooth decay and discoloration. Lack of brushing, flossing and regular checkups are the most important weapon for ridding oneself of bad breath and preventing more serious conditions from developing.

All of these conditions can leave you with teeth and that need lots of help! Fortunately we live in the modern world. Unlike those ancestors of ours, we have access to dental procedures that were nothing more than “science fiction” in centuries past.


HealthStatus has been operating since 1998 providing the best interactive health tools on the Internet, millions of visitors have used our blood alcohol, body fat and calories burned calculators. The HealthStatus editorial team has continued that commitment to excellence by providing our visitors with easy to understand high quality health content for many years. Our team of health professionals, and researchers use peer reviewed studies as source elements in our articles. Our high quality content has been featured in a number of leading websites, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, Live Strong, GQ, and many more.

Robert Stevenson
29. June 2009
Robert Stevenson
29. June 2009
During the 60's, my childhood, I had asthma. Due to medical ignorance at the time the treatment for many was antibiotics...LIQUID antibiotics. It caused permanent discoloration as well as other problems such as discoloration of permanent teeth that came in discolored. Also other drugs given by mothers such as paragoric, nose drops with NOW banned narcotics, etc. I did not see these types of things mentioned in the article....but YES...bad teeth can be caused by someone other than yourself!


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Written by HealthStatus Team
Medical Writer & Editor

HealthStatus has been operating since 1998 providing the best interactive health tools on the Internet, millions of visitors have used our blood alcohol, body fat and calories burned calculators. The HealthStatus editorial team has continued that commitment to excellence by providing our visitors with easy to understand high quality health content for many years. Our team of health professionals, and researchers use peer reviewed studies as source elements in our articles. Our high quality content has been featured in a number of leading websites, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, Live Strong, GQ, and many more.

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