We all want that megawatt, white smile, but this goal may be more difficult for some people to achieve than others. “Each person possesses an innate tooth color that can range from white to yellow,” says dentist and orthodontist Dr. Heather Kunen DDS, MS. “It’s the natural thickness and translucency of one’s enamel that determines teeth color, as well as the teeth’s ability to whiten.”
What Causes Yellow Teeth
Having genetically thinner or more translucent (less bright) enamel is perfectly normal and healthy, says Kunen, but there are few other not-so-natural reasons that teeth can appear yellow. They include:
- Frequent consumption of highly pigmented foods and drinks (coffee, red wine, teas, and certain fruits and vegetables)
- Use of tobacco products
- Lackluster dental hygiene
- Certain diseases that can affect enamel
- Medical treatments/medications (specific antibiotics during childhood and certain cancer treatments like chemotherapy)
- Tooth trauma
When poor oral hygiene is the root of what’s causing yellowed teeth, that’s when things can get a little dicey in making the “yellow teeth are healthy teeth” claim. “A buildup of plaque and calcified bacteria, called calculus, can lead to a discolored smile in addition to cavities, gingivitis, and even periodontal disease,” says Kunen.
When Kunen sees someone with a yellower-than-average smile, she will first look at the condition of that patient's oral hygiene. “If I do indeed notice a buildup of bacteria around the teeth and gums, I will instruct the patient on proper brushing and flossing techniques to maintain at home,” says Kunen.
How To Prevent Yellow Teeth
And now for some good news: poor hygiene may be one of the most common reasons for the yellowing of teeth, but it’s also one of the most preventable. Luckily, brushing twice a day and flossing regularly can remove debris deposited on teeth, says Kunen. Based on your dentist's recommendations, you can work on teeth whitening with at-home or in-office whitening treatments.
Kunen says one of the best ways to maintain a healthy, whiter smile is to refrain from staining foods and drinks as much as possible and to rinse your mouth immediately after their consumption. Visiting a dentist regularly (every six months or so) is another great way to fight back against the buildup of calculus and stains, as well as cavities and other oral-health related issues.
So there you have it! Just because your smile may not be the brightest in the room, doesn’t mean your teeth aren’t healthy — especially if you practice proper brushing and flossing and visit your dentist regularly.