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How to Remove Stains on Teeth: Cleaning vs. Whitening

Photo: holding up charcoal toothpaste and black brush

If your “pearly whites” are looking less pearly and white than you’d like, you’re not alone. Although it may just be a cosmetic issue (and not a symptom to underlying oral health problems), tooth discoloration is often on people’s minds (including ours).

But it’s time to look on the bright side! Because by understanding the root causes of staining – and the range of solutions available – you’ll be in great shape to choose the stain removal option that best fits your specific situation. Let’s lighten up, shall we?

Extrinsic Teeth Stains

Tooth discoloration falls into two basic categories. First, we have extrinsic stains – these bad boys are located on the exterior of your teeth and can show up for a range of reasons. Consuming certain foods (coffee, black tea, red wine, dark-colored berries, certain sauces and curries, etc.), using tobacco, taking certain medications, and practicing poor oral hygiene are all common culprits for producing extrinsic stains. While extrinsic stains are bad news for the megawattage of your smile, the good news is that they can be gently and effectively removed. How, you ask?

Cleaning Away Extrinsic Teeth Stains

Since extrinsic stains are physically present on the outsides of your teeth, it’s possible to scrub them away in a manner not so different from how you might clean a nice piece of dishware: make use of a mild abrasive, then hit the rinse cycle. Essentially, to remove extrinsic stains all you need is a whitening toothpaste (that contains an abrasive like silica, calcium carbonate, and/or charcoal), a soft bristled toothbrush, and a positive attitude. The abrasive quality of whitening toothpastes allows them to clean and polish the surfaces of teeth, washing away any cling-on stains you might be dealing with. Once the stains are polished off, the natural color of your teeth can shine through!

Intrinsic Stains

The second type of stain is called – you guessed it – an intrinsic stain. Intrinsic stains are accumulated within the tooth itself. The roots of intrinsic staining are mostly out of your control – things like genetics and age play a significant role in determining the internal color of your teeth. Some people have teeth that naturally look whiter, some have teeth that are naturally more yellow in color. But in either case, changing their shade requires a chemical form of whitening that goes below the surface of the tooth.

Bleaching Away Intrinsic Stains

Most intrinsic stain removal products use a chemical called peroxide. If you’ve ever seen the inside of a medicine cabinet, you’re probs already familiar with peroxide – but essentially, it’s a bleaching agent. As a tooth whitener, it’s found in low concentrations in some toothpastes and in higher concentrations in most whitening strips and gels. Peroxide whiteners can be effective for removing intrinsic stains and are generally considered safe to use. But they may cause gum irritation, tooth sensitivity or harm to your enamel if used too frequently.

Hello Whitening Products

Our name is hello, and naturally friendly™ is our M.O. That’s why we’ve decided to leave bleaching agents out of our whitening pastes and instead opt for gentler, polishing substances like silica and charcoal to address extrinsic stains. While our toothpastes don’t contain peroxide, they do pack a powerful whitening punch and come in a variety of flavors guaranteed to make your brushing ritual a frothy, satisfying experience.

Seriously – we’ve assembled an all-star cast of characters that would make the Marvel people jealous. We’re talking hemp-infused whitening pastes that also moisturizes like nobody’s business – so that your smile is bright and happy. Charcoal toothpaste that’s dark as a moonless midnight and brimming with irresistible hemp seed oil lusciousness.

So – the next time you look in the mirror and decide it’s time to brighten up your smile a few shades:

  1. Take lifestyle into consideration when determining whether your stains are more likely extrinsic or intrinsic in nature.
  2. Consider the general sensitivity level of your teeth (hey, we’re delicate creatures).
  3. Choose a whitening product that best fits your needs.
Oral Health
Lawrence Fung

about the author

Lawrence Fung is a dentist, entrepreneur, and one of our expert contributors here on the hello blog. After earning his DDS at the University of Southern California’s School of Dentistry, Lawrence served as a General Dentist in the US Navy for four years. Since then, he’s mixed his dental credentials with his love for startups by founding SiliconBeach.Dental, a new breed of dental clinic in LA that leverages tech to make high-quality care more accessible and friendlier than ever before. When he’s not challenging the dental status quo, Lawrence reps his beloved Trojans, crushes hotdog-eating contests, and loves yodeling.

Learn more about our editorial policy here.

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