The foods we eat and the beverages we drink can slowly cause staining to the surfaces of our teeth. This type of staining is generally very superficial and can be easily removed by polishing the enamel surface of the tooth. This is one reason why it is important to see your dentist at least every six months for a cleaning.
However, there is another type of staining that is not just on the surface and cannot be removed. This type of stain is caused by poor oral hygiene and is completely avoidable with good brushing and flossing. Having braces on your teeth will not doom you to have stains on your teeth. In fact, the opposite is true. Braces or Invisalign can give you a beautiful smile that you can achieve in no other way. That being said, proper care of your teeth is essential during orthodontic treatment. Teeth that are not cleaned regularly will be begin to accumulate plaque bacteria. Plaque bacteria can slowly leach minerals out of teeth causing light to reflect differently off of the surface of your teeth. This change can give the appearance of a white stain on the surface of the tooth – a portion of the tooth that appears whiter with an irregular border around it. This type of staining is often referred to as a “white spot lesion”. Over time, white spot lesions can progress into cavities if enough mineral is lost from the tooth. The area that loses too much mineral will cave in and create a hole in the tooth, thus the name “cavity”.
If white spot lesions occur, there are products designed to try to restore the lost minerals to the tooth to mask the appearance of the white staining. While these products can help to some degree, they generally cannot restore the tooth to its original condition and some of the stain will remain. When this happens, the only way to eliminate the stain is to cover it up with some type of filling or veneer to mask its appearance. While this is always an option, it is obviously much better to avoid the stain to begin with.
In our office, we use a sealant around the braces to help avoid any staining in patients who struggle with their brushing and flossing. Fluoride rinses have also been shown to be effective in studies to help avoid white spot staining on the teeth. However, nothing can take the place of good oral hygiene with regular brushing and flossing. Maintaining clean teeth during orthodontic treatment will pay dividends for the rest of your life. It is definitely worth the effort.