Unfortunately, we Brits are often the butt of jokes when it comes to our teeth, mocked by Americans for not having the ‘Hollywood Smile’ they hold so dear. Perhaps it’s the amount of tea we drink, or the number of pints we enjoy on the weekend, but either way, dental hygiene is most definitely an issue here in the UK. In 2018, a survey found that 40% of British people are unhappy with their teeth and this was predominantly due to cosmetic concerns such as the size, shape and colour of our teeth. Whilst crooked teeth can be fixed with orthodontic treatment in our teens, yellowing and discolouration can affect us throughout our lifetime.
Let’s be honest, yellowing teeth are never a good look. They can make us feel insecure about talking and smiling, for fear of people noticing the discolouration. But why do our teeth stain yellow? Once they’ve changed colour, is there any way of reversing the effects? How can our dentists help us to brighten our smiles?
In this blog, we answer all of these questions and more, offering a definitive guide to the causes of tooth discolouration and what we can do to keep our pearly whites looking… well, pearly white!
The causes of yellow teeth
Whilst everyone’s teeth are different and slight yellowing can be a genetic attribute, there are some things that directly cause unnaturally yellow teeth. When your teeth are stained, this is because the enamel (the protective white coating) has worn away, revealing the discoloured layer beneath, known as dentin. Let’s take a look at what the main causes of yellowing teeth are:
One of the top causes is smoking cigarettes, cigars or a pipe. This is because the tar and nicotine in tobacco products creates extremely stubborn stains on our teeth. You’ll be able to spot a lifelong smoker by their yellow and sometimes even brown teeth, as well as a few missing; smoking can weaken the gums too. As a rule, smoking is one of the worst things for your oral health.
What we eat and drink affects so many aspects of our bodies- teeth included. Certain foods and drinks will discolour your teeth, particularly those that are high in tannins, for example, red wine, coffee, tea, fizzy drinks, curry spices, tomato sauces, berries, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. As with all aspects of your diet, you need to stick to the ‘everything in moderation’ rule. One or two coffees a few times a week won’t cause a dramatic change in colour, but after three or four coffees every day for a prolonged period, you may start to develop a yellow smile.
Illness and medication
Unfortunately, some illnesses lead to tooth discolouration if they directly affect the strength of your enamel. On the other hand, some treatments and medications note yellowing teeth as a side effect. For example, patients undergoing chemotherapy for head or neck cancers may notice staining. Equally, people who use inhalers for asthma every day, or take medication for high blood pressure may also notice yellowing.
Poor oral hygiene
If you don’t brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day as recommended, your smile may lose its brightness. You should also floss and rinse to manage plaque buildup and not just focus on brushing. Using cheap dental hygiene products that don’t do the job will also cause yellowing and discolouration.
Whilst you need to look after your mouth with quality dental hygiene products, it also pays to be aware of excessive fluoride exposure (contained in most toothpastes) as this can lead to yellowing. Whilst fluoride is used to prevent tooth decay so should be applied to your teeth regularly via toothpaste, it’s good to use it in moderation- particularly for children. Overexposure can cause fluorosis, which leads to more deep-rooted yellowing. It’s important to check the fluoride level of your toothpaste and stay within the recommended ranges:
- Children under 3 years old should brush using a toothpaste with 1,000ppm fluoride.
- Children between 3 and 6 years old should brush using a toothpaste containing more than 1,000ppm fluoride.
- Adults should brush using a toothpaste containing 1,350-1,500ppm fluoride.
Whilst we’re increasingly encouraged to embrace our appearance in our twilight years, there are some aspects of growing old that aren’t so graceful. Yellowing teeth are an inevitable part of the ageing process as enamel begins to fade over time, particularly after a lifetime of eating, drinking and general wear and tear. Whilst it’s crucial to look after your teeth throughout your life, it’s even more important in old age.
Ways to brighten your smile
Despite the numerous causes of yellow teeth, there are an equal amount of effective treatments that can really make a difference. Below we offer some helpful advice on how to look after your teeth yourself, as well as information about how a dental professional can reverse the yellowing of your teeth.
The best way to prevent your teeth from yellowing is to avoid the lifestyle-related causes we’ve listed above. You should try to eat and drink tannin-based products in moderation and if possible, cut some of the unnecessary elements of your diet out. Why not swap the blueberries on your breakfast porridge for banana or kiwi? Equally, you could replace black tea with herbal tea or even try just having hot water with fresh lemon- your stomach will thank you too!
Of course, if you’re a smoker, there are countless health reasons for ditching the habit and whilst some of them are obviously far more pressing than a cosmetic issue like yellowing teeth, sometimes noticing something like this can give you the push you need to quit. It’s always worth speaking to your dentist, as they may be able to refer you to a local stop smoking course if you’re struggling.
Finally, whilst you obviously can’t avoid getting ill and requiring medication that could potentially discolour your teeth, if you suffer from a long-term condition that requires daily treatment, speak to your doctor about alternative remedies that might be better for your teeth.
Proper daily dental care
Sticking to a daily dental routine is a surefire way to keep your smile bright. Be sure to invest in a quality toothbrush- preferably electric- and be sure to time yourself brushing, as it’s easy to consistently brush for less than the recommended time. To properly look after your smile, you should also look into mouthwashes and dental flossing products, as this can not only prevent yellow teeth but will maintain your overall oral health.
If you simply can’t bear the thought of not having a daily coffee or a glass of red wine in the evening, just remember to brush your teeth after eating or drinking tannin-based treats. You could also bring a handy travel toothbrush and toothpaste with you so that, if you are tempted to indulge, you can prevent your teeth from yellowing by giving them a good brush afterwards.
Regular visits to your dentist and dental hygienist
In order to look after your oral health, it’s crucial that you visit your dentist at least every two years. If you’re prone to problems with your teeth, you’ll probably see your dentist more regularly, as they’ll want to keep an eye on things. However, whilst your dentist can advise about the causes of tooth discolouration, it’s your hygienist who can actually resolve the issue.
Your dentist will refer you to a hygienist as and when is necessary, however, generally you should see them every six months to a year. A hygienist will give your teeth a deep professional clean- a pain-free procedure referred to as a ‘scale and polish’ which involves removing plaque, tartar and surface staining.
At your appointments, it’s a good idea to discuss your dental hygiene routine in detail; they’ll be able to give you guidance about your current routine, what changes could be made and if there are any products that would benefit you specifically.
Professional teeth whitening
If yellow staining becomes a persistent problem, you’ve exhausted all other avenues or your yellow teeth are simply a genetic trait, you may wish to look into professional teeth whitening. This form of cosmetic dentistry treatment will improve your dental hygiene, but also give you the confidence to smile.
Teeth bleaching eliminates the stains and yellowing caused by smoking, your diet and ageing. The treatment itself usually lasts between two and four weeks, depending on which clinic you go to, during which a bleaching agent is used to penetrate the tooth surface, which oxidises and removes discolouration. The most popular treatment uses custom-moulded gum-shields to apply the bleach. In your first appointment, you’ll be fitted with a gum-shield which is then filled with the whitening agent throughout your course of treatment.
Whilst teeth whitening can sometimes be available on the NHS, generally, you’ll have to pay. The costs vary dramatically depending on where you go, so do your research thoroughly so that you find a professional yet affordable cosmetic dentist.
It is essential that you go to a qualified dentist for whitening treatment because if it’s done incorrectly your teeth, lips and gums can get badly blistered. Watch out for beauty salons that appear to offer teeth bleaching- if a dental professional isn’t present, you could end up undergoing an illegal procedure.
Riverside Dental Practice: Professional dental care in Stirling designed to brighten your smile and look after your oral health
If you’re looking for a reliable, professional solution to your yellow teeth problem or you simply want some advice, look no further than Riverside Dental Practice in Stirling. We are the dentist near you that will ensure your smile not only looks bright and healthy, but is free from pain and discomfort too.
Since 1975, we’ve been offering quality dental care to people in our local community and since our establishment, have expanded our services to include cosmetic treatments too. So, whether you’re after professional tooth whitening to brighten your smile or simply a reliable dentist for your regular check-ups, why not get in touch with us today?