Teeth don't need to be perfectly white to be healthy, but yellowing teeth can affect how people feel about their smile. Discolouration can also be more than an aesthetic concern if it's a sign of an oral health problem or another serious issue.
Before you turn to over-the-counter teeth whitening products or look up home remedies, your first stop should be your dentist. They will examine your teeth to determine why they have changed colour and can then recommend appropriate treatments to help restore and maintain a naturally while smile.
What causes tooth discolouration?
Teeth can turn yellow or darken for many reasons. There are two main categories of tooth discolouration:
- Extrinsic – staining or discolouration caused by outside factors coming into contact with your teeth
- Intrinsic – discolouration caused by internal processes in your body
Your dentist will aim to determine the likely cause or causes of your tooth discolouration so they can recommend effective treatments and address any underlying problems.
Common reasons include:
Not everyone has naturally white teeth. Healthy teeth colours can range from reddish-brown to grey, depending on the individual. Like hair and eye colour, this usually runs in families.
Teeth tend to appear more yellow as we age. This is a result of the protective enamel layer gradually wearing down over a lifetime. This reveals more of the dentine layer underneath, which is yellow in hue.
Wear and tear
Your diet and other habits may cause your teeth to wear down at a faster rate. Acids in food and drink and hard or crunchy foods that scrape the teeth can wear down the enamel and expose more of the dentine, as can habits such as teeth grinding (bruxism) or biting your nails or other hard objects.
Poor oral hygiene
Yellowing of teeth can be a sign of the build-up of plaque bacteria, which causes tooth decay and other dental problems. If plaque is not removed through proper brushing and flossing it can harden into calculus (tartar), which needs to be removed by a dentist or hygienist.
Food and drink stains
Food and drink with strong colour pigments can stain teeth through prolonged contact, just as they can stain fabrics. Common culprits include:
- red wine
- soft drinks
- sport drinks
- fruit juices
- tomato-based sauces
- curry sauces
- soy sauce
- balsamic vinegar
Food and drinks that contain high amounts of sugar or acid can also contribute to tooth decay and erosion of enamel.
Smoking or chewing tobacco can leave yellow-brown stains on your teeth, along with bad breath and increasing your oral health risks and general health risks.
Medical conditions and treatments
Certain infections, health conditions and medical therapies such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can affect tooth enamel, leading to discolouration.
Medication side effects
Some medications can potentially stain or discolour teeth as a side effect. This includes certain antibiotics, antihistamines, antipsychotic drugs and high blood pressure medications, among others.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring nutrient that is added to toothpaste and drinking water at safe levels to help prevent tooth decay. However, swallowing too much fluoride in childhood may lead to fluorosis, a condition in which white, yellow or brown spots appear on the teeth.
Trauma or damage
Teeth that are injured or undergo extensive dental procedures such as root canal therapy may discolour over time.
Cosmetic treatments to whiten teeth
If you want to change the shade of your teeth or restore their former whiteness, your dentist will first check for any signs of oral health problems. They will treat these as a priority before discussing your cosmetic dentistry options.
The most suitable treatments will depend on the cause of your tooth discolouration, the results you want to achieve and your price range. Your dentist will give you all the information you need about what these options involve, how much they cost and what the possible risks are so you can make fully informed decisions.
Professional teeth whitening
Teeth whitening treatments use bleaching gels containing agents such as hydrogen peroxide that are carefully applied to teeth. Having your whitening treatment provided by an experienced cosmetic dentist improves the chance of satisfying results and minimises the risks.
Dentists are permitted to use a stronger concentration of bleaching gels than is available to the public. Professional whitening at a dental clinic can usually be completed in a single visit, compared to multiple sessions over a number of weeks for home whitening treatments.
Teeth bleaching can be effective at treating extrinsic discolouration, such as stains from food and drink or smoking, but it is more limited when it comes to other types of discolouration. Whitening treatments are also temporary and may need to be repeated after a number of months or years, depending on how well you care for your teeth.
Home teeth whitening
If you prefer to whiten your teeth at home, you should still have a consultation with your dentist to find out if you are a candidate for teeth bleaching treatments. Dentists can also provide take-home kits that are custom made to fit your mouth. These offer superior results and improved safety compared to generic kits bought from stores.
Over-the-counter teeth whitening products include gels, strips and toothpastes. These can have variable and limited results, but may be effective when used to help maintain or top up a whitening treatment.
If your teeth have discolouration in certain areas that can't be removed by whitening, or you want a longer-term treatment, dental bonding may be an option.
This treatment uses a composite resin, similar to a filling, which can be selected in a shade of your choice. This is applied in layers to cover up stains or other minor imperfections on teeth.
Another alternative to teeth whitening, dental veneers can cover up any type of discolouration, as they replace the surface of the tooth with a thin porcelain or resin shell.
Porcelain veneers are a close match to natural tooth enamel and are more resistant to damage and stains than composite veneers, but they are also the more expensive option. Your dentist can discuss the pros and cons of both options so you can decide whether veneers are right for you.
Another option for covering a tooth is to have a custom dental crown fitted. Crowns can also be made from porcelain for a natural-looking finish and can offer more support for a weakened or damaged tooth, but they require more preparation of the underlying tooth.
How to keep your teeth white
Teeth whitening is not a permanent fix, and if you don't address the causes of your tooth discolouration, your new smile could quickly fade.
You can delay the need for repeat treatments or possibly avoid cosmetic dentistry altogether by taking steps to prevent stains and discolouration from happening. This could include:
Improve your oral hygiene
Good brushing and flossing helps to reduce plaque and can remove some surface staining. Your dentist may recommend improving your daily oral hygiene routine if they notice a lot of plaque on your teeth.
- Teeth should be brushed at least twice a day using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Brush for two minutes, taking care to brush all sides of every tooth.
- Flossing should be done before brushing once daily to clean the parts of your teeth that your toothbrush can't reach.
- Your dentist may recommend adding an antibacterial mouthwash to your daily routine if they think it would help to keep plaque at bay.
Watch what you eat and drink
Avoid or limit consumption of food and drinks that stain teeth or contribute to tooth decay and erosion. You could also reduce their effects by:
- sipping drinks through a straw
- not holding drinks in your mouth before swallowing
- sipping water alongside food and other drinks
A balanced diet with plenty of calcium and vitamins can help to prevent tooth stains and wear by strengthening the enamel.
If you need another reason to kick the habit, giving up smoking or cutting down can reduce tooth stains. You'll also reduce smoker's breath and lower your risk of gum disease, dry mouth, oral cancer and numerous other health concerns.
Keep up with your dental visits
Discoloured teeth are often a sign that something is already wrong, but regular check-ups give your dentist the chance to catch problems before they can cause damage.
During your dental visit, a hygienist can also professionally clean and scale your teeth to remove some surface stains and hard calculus deposits that can't be removed by brushing.
Free cosmetic dentistry consultation in Brisbane
If you want to know more about teeth whitening and other options for achieving a naturally white smile, contact Face Value Dental today to book a complimentary consultation with our experienced dentists in Brisbane.
We have five convenient locations in Albert Street, Adelaide Street, Helensvale, Toowong and Albany Creek. Call our friendly team on (07) 3221 0677 or book online and we'll arrange an appointment at your local clinic at a time that's good for you.
Healthdirect. Dental crown procedure [Online] 2021 [Accessed March 2022] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-crown-procedure
Healthdirect. Teeth cleaning [Online] 2020 [Accessed March 2022] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/teeth-cleaning
Healthdirect. Teeth whitening [Online] 2020 [Accessed March 2022] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/teeth-whitening
Healthdirect. Veneers [Online] 2020 [Accessed March 2022] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/veneers