Why do Teeth Turn Yellow and What can You Do about It?
Have you noticed that your teeth are not as white as they used to be? Do they stay that same shade of yellow even though you brush them thoroughly? It’s natural to be conscious of your smile, but yellow teeth aren’t necessarily a sign of poor oral health.
There are many factors that contribute to tooth colour. Some are within your control, but others are not.
Keep reading to find out what causes teeth to yellow and how to get them white again. With so many different solutions to try – both natural and chemical – we hope you find one that works for you so you can get back to smiling with confidence.
Table of contents
- 1 Myths about the state of our teeth
- 2 So why are my teeth yellow?
- 3 How to get rid of yellow teeth
- 4 What to do if your child’s teeth are yellow
Myths about the state of our teeth
Many of the ideas people have about yellow and white teeth are factually inaccurate. If you’ve been believing any of these things, you’d better think again…
Myth 1: Teeth are naturally bright white
A few lucky people may be blessed with pearly white teeth, but most people’s teeth are naturally a couple of shades darker. In fact, really bright white teeth can actually look quite unnatural. Natural teeth are usually tinged with yellow or grey.
To understand the reason why, let’s take a look at the anatomy of the tooth. On the outside we have a layer of enamel, which is a blueish-white colour. But enamel is translucent, which allows the layer of dentin below to show through. Dentin is a darker yellow colour, and this is what gives teeth an off-white appearance.
So, it’s really the shade and thickness of your tooth enamel which determines the colour of your teeth. If you brush and floss every day but your teeth are still yellow, it may just be that they are naturally that shade.
Myth 2: Yellow or off-white teeth are unhealthy
This is a myth pushed on us by companies who want people to spend hundreds of pounds getting a “perfect” Hollywood smile.
Although yellow plaque deposits and heavy staining are not healthy, it’s quite possible for perfectly clean and healthy teeth to be a shade of yellow. Teeth whitening procedures often work by stripping or penetrating the outer layer of enamel, which weakens teeth if repeated numerous times. So in many cases, yellow teeth are stronger than bright white ones – as long as they are kept clean.
Of course, you may still want to improve the aesthetic appearance of your smile by whitening your teeth, and we have some more information about that below.
Myth 3: Wearing braces will turn teeth yellow
Some people do end up with yellow teeth from wearing braces, but it’s not necessarily the braces themselves that are to blame. Bacteria can easily build up around the brace brackets so it’s important to be extra careful with cleaning your teeth and flossing during this time. If you keep up a good oral hygiene routine, wearing braces needn’t result in discoloured teeth.
If you’re worried about fixed braces discolouring your teeth, you could consider a different style of brace. Lingual braces are fixed behind your teeth so any marks they leave are hidden inside your mouth. Alternatively, “invisible” braces are removable so you can clean your teeth as normal.
On a side note, if you wear metal braces with coloured bands, did you know the colour you choose can make your teeth look brighter or more yellow? Read more in our full article on coloured braces.
Myth 4: Brits have worse teeth than Americans
Perhaps there is some truth in this stereotype, but it could simply be because Americans spend more on cosmetic dentistry than Brits. In 2015, just 3% of Brits had had their teeth whitened, compared to 14% of Americans.
But with increasing pressure from the media to have a perfect smile, the cosmetic dentistry industry is quickly picking up speed in the UK. Perhaps it won’t be long before we can finally shake off our reputation as a nation with bad teeth.
So why are my teeth yellow?
Now we’ve cleared up some common misconceptions, let’s look at the things that may be responsible for your teeth going yellow.
Smoking makes your teeth yellow because of the tar, nicotine and other chemicals carried in the smoke. These seep into the pores in your tooth enamel, staining its natural colour.
A study conducted in 2005 found that 28% of smokers had moderate to severe levels of tooth discolouration, compared to 15% of non-smokers. The study also revealed that smokers were generally less satisfied with the state of their teeth.
E-cigarettes may not discolour teeth to the same degree, but they still contain nicotine which becomes yellow when it mixes with oxygen.
There are other oral health problems associated with smoking, too. For example, nicotine causes gums to recede and can lead to gingivitis and periodontitis.
Slack oral hygiene
If you notice a yellow buildup on your teeth, it’s probably plaque or tartar. Plaque forms when bacteria from food and drink particles aren’t cleaned properly from your teeth. Over time, plaque hardens to form tartar, which can only be removed by a dentist or hygienist.
This yellow coating can form on or around your teeth if you don’t brush often enough or thoroughly enough. Not only does it look bad, it contributes to bad breath and a whole load of other oral health complications.
It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the things you put into your mouth have an effect on the colour of your teeth. If your teeth are stained yellow, it might be because of foods such as these:
- Coffee and tea
- Red wine
- Tomato sauces
- Soy sauce
- Balsamic vinegar
There are other foods and drinks which, although they don’t cause staining themselves, contain acids that eat away at your tooth enamel. This reduces the ‘whiteness’ of your teeth and also leaves them more susceptible to staining. Watch out for:
- Fizzy drinks (heavily coloured ones can also cause stains)
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Sports drinks
- Sugary foods
- Artificial sweetners
- White wine and many other alcoholic drinks
Rinsing your mouth with water after consuming these products will help minimise the damage from any acid.
As if getting older wasn’t bad enough, it’s natural for your teeth to become yellow as you age. This is because the protective enamel layer becomes thinner, revealing more of the yellow dentin underneath.
If you have had yellowish teeth all your life, your parents may be to blame. Genetic variances can affect tooth colour and enamel porosity – and more porous enamel is more liable to stain.
Medication or illness
Some antibiotics such as tetracycline and amoxicillin can affect the colour of teeth, especially in younger children. Drugs prescribed to adults for allergies and high blood pressure may also have this side effect. Speak to your doctor if you’re concerned about this.
Certain illnesses, particularly those that affect the liver, can result in discoloured teeth. Patients who undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer may also find their teeth turning a brownish hue.
Teeth whitening treatment is not usually covered by the NHS, but exceptions may be made in cases where there is a medical reason for the discolouration.
How to get rid of yellow teeth
Turning your teeth from yellow to white is often easier said than done. However, there are several approaches you can take depending on your budget, the results you want, and how quickly you want to see a difference.
Get them properly cleaned
You should visit your dental hygienist every six months for a scale and polish, unless your dentist recommends otherwise. Getting your yellow teeth scaled involves removing any tartar build-up and then polishing the surfaces of your teeth with special instruments.
You might be surprised at how much brighter your teeth appear after this. But if you want more drastic results, you’ll need to look at your options for teeth whitening.
The following short BBC presentation discusses some of the options and how safe they are:
Try a natural whitening solution
Before turning to chemical whitening methods, you might want to try some natural ways to fix yellow teeth stains. A quick online search will bring up all kinds of alternative techniques that people swear by, but here are some of the most popular:
- Activated charcoal
- Coconut oil pulling
- Baking soda
- Apple cider vinegar
Some whitening toothpastes include natural ingredients to help with whitening, although the abrasiveness of these may cause sensitive teeth with prolonged use.
Use a home whitening kit
There are many affordable ways to whiten your teeth at home. You can buy strips, pens, bleaching trays, LED kits and more in your bid to brighten your smile.
Naturally, each of these methods varies in its cost, effectiveness and ease of use. Generally speaking, home treatments won’t be as effective on badly stained teeth as professional treatments.
If you’re considering using a home teeth whitening kit, check out our full article on whitening kits to help you choose the right one for you.
Get professional whitening
Probably the most effective way to make yellow teeth white is to visit your dentist for a course of professional whitening. Using lasers or LEDs with concentrated bleaching products, you can get results in a single visit. It won’t come as a surprise that these treatments are also the most expensive.
Want to know more about different whitening methods and how effective they are? We covered this topic in much more detail in our guide to teeth whitening.
If your teeth are not just discoloured but also crooked or chipped, you may want to kill two birds with one stone by getting veneers. These thin covers are placed directly onto your existing teeth. They can be made to match your natural teeth if you just need one or two, or you can transform your smile with veneers across all your visible teeth.
Keep them clean
Whatever the shade of your teeth now, you can help prevent any further yellowing by taking good care of them. This means brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least daily. Use a fluoride toothpaste as this helps strengthen enamel. You can also use mouthwash, but don’t rinse immediately after brushing since this can wash the fluoride away.
And remember that list of foods and drinks that stain or damage teeth? Try to limit your consumption of these, or at least rinse your mouth with water after you have had them.
What to do if your child’s teeth are yellow
Keep in mind that a child’s milk teeth are usually whiter than their permanent teeth. Don’t be alarmed if their first adult teeth seem quite yellow in comparison with the remaining baby teeth.
However, children’s teeth (both baby and adult) may become discoloured for many of the same reasons as adults’, i.e. diet, poor oral hygiene, genetic factors, medications, and illnesses.
Take the same precautions as you would for yourself; brush well twice a day and limit sugary snacks and other foods that may damage enamel. If you have trouble brushing your child’s teeth thoroughly, consider investing in an electric toothbrush which might make the task more enjoyable.
Also take your child to the dentist for regular checkups so any dental problems can be addressed early on. If you are concerned about the shade of your child’s teeth, mention it to your dentist at your next visit. Avoid using any whitening products – even natural ones – on your child, unless your dentist recommends you do so.