It is estimated that around 77% of Brits are unhappy with their smile. The leading reason is stained or discoloured teeth, with yellow teeth the most common.
Yellowing teeth can cause a smile to lose its charm and confidence to drop. That said, there are a variety of treatment solutions that can help whiten teeth and restore the beauty of a smile.
But before we dive into possible solutions, and indeed, the causes of yellow teeth, it’s important to bust a couple of myths about tooth colour in general.
Myth #1 – Everybody has perfectly white teeth when young
Not every person will start with the same level of teeth whiteness. Some people are predisposed to develop porous tooth enamel and are more prone to tooth discolouration (yellowing). In other words, yellow teeth can be genetically inherited. This is why when two different people undergo teeth whitening treatments using the same brand, they may see differing degrees of success.
Myth #2 – Yellow teeth are unhealthy teeth?
There is no evidence to support the fact that yellow teeth are unhealthy. In fact, it’s very common for people to have yellow teeth yet still retain good oral health. Instead, we’ve been predisposed through the media to acknowledge that a ‘Hollywood smile’ is a healthy smile when this isn’t always the case.
Now that we’ve busted two of the myths surrounding yellow teeth let’s look at what causes tooth discolouration.
Causes of yellow teeth
There are many reasons why teeth are yellow or discoloured. Some of these are natural causes, while some may have something to do with your everyday life and include:
- Ageing – Unfortunately, the older you are, the harder it is to maintain a white smile. As you age, the outer layer tooth enamel thins to reveal the yellowish colour of the inner dentin layer through the surface.
- Diet – food or beverages high in tannins such as coffee, tea, and red wine contribute to yellowing teeth. So, those who are notorious caffeine drinkers may find that their teeth appear yellowish. Acidic foods (tomatoes and citrus) can also cause yellow staining as they soften and weaken the tooth enamel.
- Smoking – Nicotine is one of the top causes of yellow or brown teeth. The chemical substance can stick to the tooth’s surface, which can be quite stubborn to remove with simple toothbrushing alone.
- Medications – Believe it or not, certain medications can also cause teeth staining. For example, common antibiotics like doxycycline or tetracycline cause teeth discolouration. In addition, some over-the-counter anti-histamines like Benadryl are also known to cause surface staining. Even some mouthwashes contribute to teeth staining or yellowing, particularly those containing chlorhexidine. So do keep an eye out for this ingredient the next time you pick up a bottle.
- Poor Oral Hygiene – When plaque collects on teeth, it hardens to tartar. Tartar is full of bacteria and minerals that form a hard, yellow deposit on the teeth. Tartar is often found along the gum line and can only be removed with professional dental cleaning.
Teeth whitening treatments for yellow teeth
So now you know what causes yellow teeth, the good news is that there are countless teeth whitening treatments available that claim to whiten teeth. However, some will respond better than others.
Teeth whitening strips, for example, are readily available in any chemist or online for a few pounds. However, you need to be aware that legally in the UK, over-the-counter teeth whitening products are only allowed to contain up to 0.1% hydrogen peroxide (the bleaching agent that turns teeth white). Unfortunately, it’s the same for all over-the-counter products sold in the UK, meaning that any whitening achieved (if any) will be minimal. As such, whitening strips may, at best, be hit and miss and, at worst, are unlikely to work on stubborn ingrained (intrinsic) staining.
Consider visiting your local dentist for professional teeth whitening for a more potent whitening effect. Most clinics provide either ‘take-home kits’ or ‘chairside teeth whitening’ treatment where they can safely deliver teeth whitening in excess of the 0.1% hydrogen peroxide levels you can purchase from a store. Inevitably this means guaranteed (and in many cases) faster results.
Let’s take a closer look at both treatment types.
Firstly, at-home teeth whitening
If you want convenient teeth whitening done in the comfort of your home, take-home or at-home teeth whitening could be a good option. Your dentist will prescribe a whitening kit that contains a bleaching gel and custom-made trays.
Simply dispense the required amount of bleaching gel onto the tray, then wear the trays in your mouth for the allotted time frame (either overnight or for a given amount of time during the day). The process is repeated until yellow teeth have whitened to a shade you prefer. After treatment, you will be scheduled for a follow-up appointment to check your progress.
Pros and cons of at-home teeth whitening
Teeth whitening carried out in the comfort of your own home is perfect for those who want a slow, steady, and natural teeth whitening treatment. Treatment is typically more effective than most over-the-counter teeth whitening products.
The downside to at-home teeth whitening is that this may not be for you if you want snap results. Depending on how yellow the teeth are, the treatment will take a while and will need continued re-application before the goal is reached.
In-office teeth whitening
If you want super-fast (instantaneous) results, teeth whitening done at the dental clinic and facilitated by your dentist delivers the quickest and most noticeable results. In some cases, chairside (in office) teeth whitening can change the colour of teeth in as little as one hour.
The dentist will first carry out a consultation to ensure that you’re safe to proceed and understand your whitening goals. Once the okay is given, then treatment can start. The bleaching gel (typically around 35% strength) is applied to the teeth and left for approximately 10 minutes to work its magic. The gel is then rinsed off, and more is applied until the desired degree of whiteness is reached. Some in-office treatments use heat and light or a combination of both to intensify and hasten the results.
Pros and cons of in-office teeth whitening
Ultimately, in-office teeth whitening is the gold standard for teeth bleaching treatment. It’s highly effective for darker or ingrained staining, and the result is a more confident smile that can be up to 8 shades lighter.
Many prefer this treatment if they want immediate results. However, patients often shy away from in-office teeth bleaching because of the cost and the possibility of increased teeth sensitivity during and after the procedure in some cases.
How to maintain white teeth?
Unfortunately, teeth whitening treatment does not last forever. At most, in-office bleaching can last up to 3 years. But the timeframe depends heavily on your dietary intake and/or oral routine. The effects of teeth whitening will be compromised if staining agents are present. You can maximise the impact and further its lifespan by avoiding food that can stain your teeth and also by quitting smoking.
If you want to take it up a notch, why not maintain or top up your teeth whitening by utilising at-home teeth whitening after a one-off chairside teeth whitening treatment. Studies show that combining these techniques result in significant teeth lightening that can be maintained.
Good oral hygiene is also vital to ensure a lasting, beautiful smile. Also, commit to semi-annual dental visits for comprehensive oral check-ups and teeth cleaning. These preventative techniques will prevent bacteria build-up to keep your teeth healthy and smile radiant.
Complete your smile makeover with Straight My Teeth!
They say that a perfect smile is one of the greatest assets. And nothing says confidence-booster than a straighter, whiter smile!
At Straight My Teeth, we offer affordable and discreet clear aligners that correctly position your teeth, fix your bite, and improve your oral health. Then, once your teeth are perfectly aligned, why not consider reforming your stained or yellow teeth with professional teeth whitening treatments available from your local dentist.
With these combined cosmetic dental procedures, your dream smile is definitely within reach.
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Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Kishor Kumar Pradhan