Your smile is often times the first thing another person notices about you. It’s also one of the first things you notice about yourself when you look in the mirror. We are naturally drawn to the shape and shade of a smile which is why we’re quick to discern a piece of spinach stuck between two teeth or a few off-colored splotches on an otherwise pearly white smile. Small dental imperfections are irritating because we are constantly scrutinizing them from every angle, wishing they would just go away.
In most cases, a perfect smile takes at least a few visits to the dentist. Coffee stains, misalignment, and tooth decay are all fairly easy fixes for a dentist and won’t cost too much money, time, or stress. There are, however, a handful of dental dilemmas that are a little more difficult to solve. We’ve never had to turn down a patient because we couldn’t transform their smile but every case is different which means some are going to take a larger investment than others. One of those larger investment cases is tetracycline staining.
Before the 1980s, doctors used to prescribe the antibiotic tetracycline to anyone and everyone — including pregnant women and young children. Tetracycline is a basic antibiotic that treats everything from urinary tract infections to acne. The effect the medicine had was minor but evident: the babies who were in utero when their mother took tetracycline and the children who took tetracycline at a young age developed grayish “bands” on their permanent teeth.
We’ve had many patients come into our office asking if there’s a way to “whiten” those stains. The short answer is there isn’t. Tetracycline staining is not like red wine or coffee stains. The greyish color is not on top of the tooth — it’s a part of the tooth. Although there are some companies that promise real results, take it from the people who use these whitening systems on patients every day: there is no way for modern whitening systems to effectively remove tetracycline staining.
Luckily, there is another way to correct the discoloration caused by tetracycline: porcelain veneers. Veneers are always the best way to achieve a perfect smile. This is especially true if you’re suffering from tetracycline staining. Instead of trying to remove the stains with a whitening solution, veneers cover them up completely.
The dentist places a very thin “veneer” of porcelain over the teeth, disguising any imperfections and creating a more symmetrical smile. In the past, veneers required the dentist to shave down a small portion of the enamel so that each veneer could fit over the natural tooth. Nowadays, many patients can get no-prep veneers. These veneers are so thin that they don’t require any drilling or shaving in order to fit and look natural.
Veneers are more expensive than whitening so this solution might not work for everyone. We typically like to give our patients a few different treatment options but with tetracycline staining, getting veneers is the only way to truly get rid of that gray discoloration — at the moment. There are always new dental technologies coming out that make cosmetic dentistry easier and more affordable. In a few years, there may be a whitening system that does remove tetracycline stains. When that product arrives on the market, you know we’ll be the first office to get it!