Vocab 101: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Stains

Teeth come in a variety of colors. Our eyes perceive some as white, while other teeth have noticeable yellow, gray or brown tones. Aside from differences in natural tooth color, the enamel of your teeth can absorb color from food, drinks and habits such as smoking. Stains that are within the tooth (usually in the dentin layer) are called intrinsic stains. Stains on the surface of the tooth are called extrinsic stains. At any preventive dentistry checkup, we will be glad to discuss teeth whitening solutions for extrinsic and intrinsic tooth discoloration.

Whitening for Extrinsic Stains

Extrinsic stains (in the enamel layer) usually respond well to tooth whitening treatments. We offer in office treatments, that can whiten in about an hour. We also offer treatments that you can do at home. For light stains, some people achieve results with over-the-counter treatments, or regular use of a whitening toothpaste. After a tooth whitening treatment, you can help preserve their fresh color by:

  • Using a straw for dark beverages, when practical
  • Minimizing the time coffee and red wines are in contact with tooth surfaces
  • Minimizing the time dark foods (for example, blueberries or cherry pie) are in contact with teeth
  • Maintaining excellent brushing and oral hygiene habits

Solutions for Intrinsic Discoloration

Intrinsic discoloration can be caused by certain medications, as well as by damage to a tooth. It will not respond to surface whitening treatments. Front teeth with intrinsic stains can be cosmetically improved by applying strong yet thin porcelain veneers. A discolored tooth can also be covered with a crown. Both crowns and porcelain veneers can also subtly correct the shape and size of a tooth, or several teeth, while lightning the color.


Our team offers our patients and their family access to comprehensive dental care, including general, cosmetic, and restorative dentistry. To schedule an appointment with the Potach and Mitchell Dental Cliniccontact our Austin, MN dental office today by calling 507-437-6312. Our office welcomes patients from Austin, MN and surrounding communities.