Teeth don't have to be gleaming white to be healthy, but having off-white or yellow teeth can make people feel unhappy with their appearance.
If you're concerned about your tooth colour, your dentist is the best person to talk to. They can give you advice about how to avoid stains and improve your oral hygiene or discuss cosmetic options to help you get a whiter smile.
Why are my teeth going yellow?
There's no single reason why teeth turn yellow. Different causes can have different solutions, so understanding why this has happened to you is the first step to a whiter smile.
The yellow you're seeing could be:
This is the softer layer of the tooth under the protective enamel. Dentine has a yellowish hue, while enamel is naturally white. Teeth with thicker enamel normally look whiter.
If you have naturally thinner enamel because of genetics, or it's been worn down by tooth decay or acid erosion, more of the yellow dentine will show through. Wear and tear of enamel is more likely with age, which is why our teeth tend to look more yellow as we get older.
As well as affecting your appearance, teeth with exposed dentine may also feel more sensitive to temperature and be more vulnerable to damage. Your dentist may recommend treatments for strengthening worn or weakened teeth.
Bacteria that build up on the teeth form a sticky layer called plaque. If this isn't removed by regular brushing and flossing, it can harden into tartar (also called calculus). Plaque and tartar are pale yellow in colour, but stains from food and drink can make them darker over time.
Plaque is what causes tooth decay and gum disease, which is linked with a number of health problems. It can spread faster when you consume sugary or starchy food and drink, as this feeds the bacteria.
Plaque can usually be kept at bay with good oral hygiene, but if it hardens into tartar, it can only be removed with a professional clean at the dental clinic.
Common reasons for teeth going yellow or darker is stains from food and drink, smoking and other sources.
It's not hard to tell which foods and drinks are likely to cause stains. If it would leave a stain on your clothes or a tablecloth, it can stain your teeth. Also like clothes, the whiter your teeth were before, the more easily stains will show up.
Stains and discolouration happen when pigments from food and drink penetrate the enamel to stain the softer dentine beneath and show through. These stains can't be removed by brushing, but cosmetic treatments may be effective at covering them up.
Are yellow teeth healthy?
Healthy teeth can range in colour from white to light yellow or light grey. Not having white teeth isn't necessarily a sign of an oral health problem, even if your teeth have stains. Likewise, white teeth may still have some decay or other issues.
It takes a dental assessment to determine if your teeth are healthy or if you could benefit from a treatment. Even if your teeth and gums are healthy, you could request a cosmetic treatment if you want to whiten their appearance.
How to keep your teeth white
Like any issue with your teeth, prevention is better than cure when it comes to stains and discolouration. This can't always be avoided, especially for teeth that yellow naturally, but you can improve your chances of maintaining a white smile by:
- avoiding common sources of tooth stains
- following good oral hygiene
Avoid stains and discolouration
This is most common with food and drink that has strong or dark pigments, such as:
- red wine
- dark spirits
- soft drinks
- fruit juices
- tomato and curry sauces
If you don't want to give up your favourite foods and drinks completely, you could reduce their impact by sipping water after every bite or sip, adding milk to tea and coffee or drinking through a straw to reduce contact of the liquid with your front teeth.
Smoking and chewing tobacco can also stain your teeth, as well as increasing your risk for gum disease and serious oral health problems such as mouth cancers.
Discoloured teeth can also be a side effect of some medications. This usually results in darker teeth that aren't suitable for teeth whitening treatments, so always check the side effects or talk to your doctor about changing medication.
Follow good oral hygiene
Keeping your teeth and gums clean helps to prevent plaque build-up, which can cause teeth to look yellow. Tooth decay and erosion can also wear down tooth enamel, showing the yellow dentine beneath.
To maintain a good standard of oral hygiene, dentists recommend:
- brush your teeth at least twice a day for 2 minutes
- use fluoride toothpaste that helps to protect your teeth
- replace your toothbrush or electric toothbrush head every 3 months
- floss between your teeth at least once a day
- drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially tap water containing fluoride
- cut down on sweet and acidic food and drink
- have regular dental check-ups and teeth cleaning
- try to quit smoking
Can yellow teeth become white again?
If your teeth are already yellow, the good news is that most tooth stains and discolouration can be treated. The treatment depends on what caused your teeth to lose their whiteness, and may be as simple as scraping off plaque or may involve a cosmetic treatment.
Your dentist will make sure you know all your options and understand any possible risks and side effects so you can decide if a treatment is right for you.
When you visit your dentist for your routine check-up, they'll also offer a professional scale and clean with a hygienist. This removes plaque and tartar from the tooth surfaces that wasn't cleaned away through brushing and flossing, and could leave your teeth whiter.
After professionally cleaning your teeth, your hygienist will apply a coating of fluoride. This helps to prevent future plaque attacks, as long as you follow a good oral hygiene routine.
During your visit to the dental clinic, you'll have the chance to discuss other treatments you might be interested in to help whiten your teeth.
In-chair teeth whitening
If your teeth have been discoloured by food and drink, smoking or natural ageing, their original shade could be restored with a teeth whitening treatment at the dental clinic.
Professional teeth whitening can only be provided by a suitably qualified dental practitioner. The procedure uses a strong concentration of bleaching agent that's applied to the teeth in layers and activated by a UV light. This bleaching agent penetrates the enamel to brighten the underlying dentine, often by several shades.
In-chair teeth whitening can usually be completed in a single visit. This treatment is not permanent and you may decide to top up your smile when it begins to fade.
Home teeth whitening kit
An alternative to professional whitening, a home teeth whitening kit provided by your dentist can give comparable results, though it will take longer to get there. Your custom whitening trays should be worn every day for 1 to 2 weeks, depending on how stained your teeth are.
Home whitening kits use a lower concentration of bleaching agent, but they must still be used with care to avoid the chemical touching the soft tissues in your mouth. Generic whitening kits, strips and toothpastes bought over the counter are less reliable than a personalised take-home kit from your dentist and may lead to uneven results.
Not all tooth discolouration can be treated with bleaching. If the stains are darker or you want a more permanent option, you could consider dental veneers. These are placed over the teeth to change how your smile looks.
Veneers are made from either porcelain or a composite resin and are custom made to fit over your teeth. Once bonded into place, your veneers need to be cared for to avoid them being damaged or coming loose.
If your teeth have thin enamel, or they've been damaged or weakened in other ways, your dentist could restore their strength and change their appearance by fitting dental crowns.
Crowns are custom made to fit over your teeth and can be made in a shade of your choice. If you have older crowns that have discoloured, these won't be affected by teeth whitening treatments, so you may choose to have them replaced.
What does teeth whitening cost?
Treatments that are solely cosmetic such as teeth whitening and veneers aren't covered by health insurance in Australia, but you can ask your dentist about any promotions they offer or payment plans that could help to make your treatment more affordable.
Crowns and other treatments that have oral health benefits may be covered by your health fund, depending on your coverage.
Talk to a cosmetic dentist on the Gold Coast
If you want to lift stains from your teeth, book a consultation with our dentists to find out more about teeth whitening, veneers and other treatments we offer at our Gold Coast dental clinic.
Call our team on 07 5575 9100 or visit us in Robina Town Shopping Centre to find out all your options for getting the smile you want.
Healthdirect. Dental care tips [Online] 2017 [Accessed May 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-care-tips
Healthdirect. Teeth whitening [Online] 2018 [Accessed May 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/teeth-whitening
Australian Dental Association. Teeth Whitening: Getting the best result for your smile [Online] 2016 [Accessed May 2020] Available from: https://www.ada.org.au/getattachment/Your-Dental-Health/Resources-for-Professionals/Resources-for-Teens-12-17/Teeth-whitening-the-best-result-for-your-smile/Teeth-whitening,-getting-the-best-result-for-your-smile.pdf.aspx
Healthdirect. Veneers [Online] 2018 [Accessed May 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/veneers