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.

teeth with stains
Teeth yellow for a number of reasons

There are many factors that contribute to tooth color. 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.

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

layers of a tooth
Translucent enamel allows yellow dentin to show through

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 color. But enamel is translucent, which allows the layer of dentin below to show through. Dentin is a darker yellow color, 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 color 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 dollars 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

tartar on teeth with braces
Wearing braces requires extra care with teeth cleaning

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 doesn’t have to result in discolored teeth.

If you’re worried about fixed braces discoloring 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 colored bands, did you know the color you choose can make your teeth look brighter or more yellow? Read more in our full article on colored braces.

So why are my teeth yellow?

Now that we’ve cleared up some common misconceptions, let’s look at the things that may be responsible for your teeth going yellow.


stained teeth from smoking
Smokers are prone to yellower teeth

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 color.

A study conducted in 2005 found that 28% of smokers had moderate to severe levels of tooth discoloration, 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 discolor 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.

Your diet

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the things you put into your mouth have an effect on the color of your teeth. If your teeth are stained yellow, it might be because of foods such as these:

  • Coffee and tea
  • Red wine
  • Curries
  • Tomato sauces
  • Berries
  • Soy sauce
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Beetroot

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:

bad for teeth
It may seem like a healthy option but beware of the acidity of fruit juice
  • Fizzy drinks (heavily colored ones can also cause stains)
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Sports drinks
  • Sugary foods
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • White wine and many other alcoholic drinks

Rinsing your mouth with water after consuming these products will help minimize 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 color and enamel porosity – and more porous enamel is more likely to stain.

Medication or illness

Some antibiotics such as tetracycline and amoxicillin can affect the color 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 discolored teeth. Patients who undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer may also find their teeth turning a brownish hue.

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.

Before you do, you might want to watch this short video where a dental assistant explains the possible side effects of tooth bleaching:

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.

activated coconut charcoalIf you’re looking for a natural way to whiten your teeth, Active Wow’s charcoal powder comes highly recommended. It’s made in the USA from high-quality activated coconut charcoal. Rather than raw powder, it’s mixed with bentonite for remineralization and orange seed oil for anti-inflammation. The mint flavor is more appealing to some people than an unflavored product. Many users are surprised at the results they get from something that’s so affordable.


We have a full article on the benefits of activated charcoal for teeth whitening so check that out if you want to know more.

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. However, they can still produce noticeable results.

magicbrite teeth whitening kitFor great value for money, we recommend the Complete Teeth Whitening Kit from Magic Brite. This kit comes with everything you need to whiten your yellow teeth at home, including an LED light and moldable mouth trays. You even get some vitamin E swabs to protect your lips. When your gel runs out, it’s easy to buy refills whenever you need them.

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.

To find a dentist near you for professional teeth whitening, simply call 888-449-1437.


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 discolored 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 to the remaining baby teeth.

protecting kids teeth
Try to encourage teeth-friendly choices

However, children’s teeth (both baby and adult) may become discolored 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.

Do you need to find a dentist near you for you or your child? Call 888-449-1437 to find an available dentist in your area. Remember that regular visits are the best way to treat problems before they become too serious.

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