Yellowing teeth may not be as urgent as other dental problems, but they can sap you of your confidence and make you reluctant to smile.
Luckily you can prevent tooth yellowing by taking a few simple steps, and it can be easily reversed by both home remedies and professional treatments.
First let’s look at why teeth become yellow.
Causes of Yellow Teeth
There are many causes for teeth yellowing. The first step to preventing and correcting this common problem is to understand what causes it, and if possible, how to avoid these causative factors.
Genetics. For better or worse, the natural hue of your teeth is determined by genetics. If you have a parent with yellowed teeth, it’s possible that you are genetically predisposed to the condition. In fact there a number of different “natural tints” for tooth color, including reddish brown, reddish yellow, gray, and reddish gray.
Dentin. Tooth enamel is naturally lighter in color, while the underlying material, known as dentin, is deep yellow to brownish in color. If your enamel has thinned to the point of being semi-transparent, the dentin may be showing through, causing your teeth to have a yellow appearance.
Normal wear. Your teeth’s enamel naturally thins with age, meaning that over time, the underlying dentin will show through to some degree. Your teeth will therefore naturally take on a somewhat yellowed appearance the older you get. You can slow down normal wear by avoiding acidic drinks and preventing damaging factors such as bruxism.
Smoking. In addition to other oral health problems such as gum disease and oral cancer, cigarette smoking can cause tooth yellowing as well. The tar in cigarettes is a dark residue that deposits onto teeth. Nicotine is colorless, but becomes yellowish in hue after it is deposited on teeth and is oxygenated.
Fortunately, tobacco stains are generally superficial, and do not penetrate the enamel. They can be removed temporarily by tooth whitening treatments, but the only permanent solution is to cease tobacco use.
Foods and drinks. Many foods and drinks can deposit stains on tooth enamel. Pigments found in fruits and vegetables can stain teeth, as can those in wine and vinegar. Sodas, coffee, and tea are also notorious for their tooth-yellowing effects.
Antibiotic use. Tetracycline-class antibiotics incorporate into developing teeth, leading to a discoloration of the mature enamel. Therefore, consumption of tetracyclines during pregnancy can stain the primary (or baby) teeth, while use of tetracyclines during childhood can stain developing adult teeth. This typically causes the teeth to take on a gray appearance.
Fluoride use. Fluoride is excellent for tooth and gum health, but excessive use of fluoride products can cause brownish yellow spots on the enamel, known as fluorosis. Fortunately these stains are relatively easy to remove. If you think that your fluoride regimen may be on overkill, talk to your dentist before making adjustments.
Accidents. Trauma to the teeth can cause cracks to the enamel and damage the tooth’s interior, leading to bleeding that may cause discoloration. If you have sustained physical trauma to your teeth and notice sudden discoloration, make an appointment with your dentist right away to have it checked out.
Bruxism. Bruxism, which is the unconscious grinding of teeth or clenching of the jaw, can cause enamel damage and thinning, which in turn leads to yellowing of the teeth. Corrective measures such as a night guard for nighttime bruxism and behavior modification for daytime bruxism can be helpful in preventing this damage.
What You Can Do to Get Your Teeth Whiter and Reduce Yellowing
Most of us would like to whiten our teeth a few shades.
If you’re willing to wait a few weeks to a few months to see results and your yellowing isn’t too severe, you may opt for home remedies or over-the-counter treatments. If you’re looking to see results quickly or your teeth yellowing has reached a more advanced stage, you may prefer a professional treatment.
Home remedies. There are a number of home remedies for tooth whitening, including apple cider vinegar, coconut oil pulling, and a hydrogen-peroxide baking soda mixture. There are also many over-the-counter options for teeth whitening, such as toothpastes, mouth washes, and at-home whitening kits.
Professional treatments. If you’re looking to see faster results or have more severe yellowing, you may opt for professional treatment. In-office treatments utilize high-concentration peroxide gels in combination with light activation to produce results that are visible after only one treatment.
Your dentist can also prescribe take-home treatments that produce faster results than over-the-counter kits.
If yellowing teeth are a concern for you, mention it at your next dental checkup. Your dental hygienist can recommend a preventive care regimen, and discuss potential options for teeth whitening treatments.