Firstly, it is important to note that the colour of our teeth varies according to individual genetics in the same way that people have different hair colours or complexions. In fact, very few people have pure white teeth – according to Colgate, there are 44 different shades of white ranging from pure white through to more yellow tones.
But every smile is personal to the individual, and for some people yellow teeth can make them feel embarrassed and therefore requires treatment to restore their confidence.
What causes discoloured teeth?
Besides genetics, yellow teeth can be caused by several factors, including:
Poor dental hygiene: failing to maintain good oral hygiene habits, such as good brushing and flossing, means plaque and stains aren’t being removed daily. Over time, this builds up and causes the teeth to discolour.
Diet: food and drinks like black coffee, red wine, green tea, and curries can also stain our teeth. In addition, if our diets are overly acidic with frequent consumption of fizzy drinks, acidic fruits or fruit juices/smoothies, or drinking a lot of wine can have a deleterious effect on our teeth. These food and drinks dissolve the surface of the enamel overtime and cause yellowing of the teeth.
Tooth decay: our teeth can be discoloured by tooth decay and if our teeth are heavily filled as a result of decay. Nonvital teeth (those where the nerve has died either as a result of tooth decay or of an accident or trauma) often discolour and go dark.
Bad habits: smoking is one of the worst causes of discoloured and stained teeth and, of course, is extremely bad for our health. It is important not to smoke or to quit smoking if you are a smoker.
Age: over time, our teeth will naturally discolour, darken and become more yellow due to wear and tear and the cumulative effect of our diets and lifestyle habits. Even normal wear and tear can thin the enamel over time making our teeth look yellow or sometimes greyer.
Genetic medical conditions: there are some genetic medical conditions that result in the enamel or dentine of the teeth not forming correctly and this can have an impact on the colour of our teeth. Your dentist can advise on the best way to address this.
Drugs: historically some antibiotics in the tetracycline family that were prescribed for throat and chest infections during childhood cause discolouration of the teeth if taken during while the teeth are developing. However, this was mainly an issue in the 1960s and 70s and a little later in other countries. They are no longer prescribed for children for this reason and is less of a problem in recent years.
Diseases: there are also certain diseases and treatments that affect the enamel and dentin, which causes them to discolour, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Good oral hygiene and regular dental care is the best way to minimise the impact of any therapies on your teeth.
Can tooth discolouration be reversed?
Yes, there are several treatment options available depending on the cause and the extent of the discolouration.
At our practice, we always strive to perform the least invasive cosmetic dentistry treatment to preserve the tooth structure while creating the best result possible for our patients.
If the discolouration is due to staining, the simplest treatment is a professional cleaning of your teeth i.e. a thorough scale and polish, which can be performed by your dental hygienist or dentist. In many cases, tooth whitening is also an excellent, safe, non-invasive treatment to improve the colour of your teeth, your dentist can advise if this is suitable for you.
Finally, if the teeth are very worn with a significant loss of the enamel or are heavily filled, then composite bonding, porcelain veneers or crowns may be the best solution. Again, the expertise of a high-quality dentist is where to get the best advice on what is the appropriate for you.
Of course, keeping good oral hygiene is essential to maintaining the natural whiteness of your teeth. Brushing correctly twice daily, flossing and good interdental cleaning are the best way to ensure that any stains are removed on a daily basis, while regular trips to your hygienist will prevent any long-term accumulation of plaque or tartar to maintain healthy gums.
In addition, we encourage all our patients to be aware of the foods and drinks they consume to reduce staining and enamel loss, and avoiding smoking offers health benefits beyond your teeth.
When to see your dentist about discoloured or yellow teeth
If your teeth have always been yellow and you’re happy with your smile, there is no reason to visit your dentist.
However, if your teeth have suddenly changed colour and become more yellow, it’s important to speak to your dentist as soon as possible so they can identify the cause.
If you have yellow teeth and they make you feel unhappy or embarrassed about your smile, then book a consultation with your dentist to discuss this. There’s no reason for discoloured teeth to affect your confidence when there are so many simple, painless treatment options available to brighten your smile.