In the age of digital photography, social media and other picture sharing websites, people are under more pressure than ever to look their best. Having a beaming smile with radiant white teeth is now as important as having the latest trendy hairstyle or clothing. Tooth discoloration, however, is not something that can be quickly fixed before a photograph is taken.
Also known as yellowing teeth, tooth discoloration is the process whereby teeth lose their white sheen and turn dark yellow in color. It occurs naturally when the outer shell of dental enamel begins to weaken and turns translucent, showing the darker or more yellow colored dentin underneath. Enamel is the coating that protects our teeth, and it weakens itself naturally over time. For some people, this coating weakens quicker than others and their teeth begin to lose their white glow.
How can this be?
Here, we list the five most common reasons why teeth begin to prematurely turn yellow.
Tea and coffee both contain tannins that can easily cause tooth discoloration. Tannins are biomolecules found in many different plants, trees and herbs. They are naturally dark in color and can easily stick to a variety of surfaces and compounds, such as dental enamel. After drinking tea or coffee, the residue from tannins will remain on teeth for up to an hour before gradually beginning to weaken and dissolve.
Tip: Reducing daily intake of black tea and coffee will help prevent teeth from becoming discolored. Switching from black tea to green tea will also help teeth to retain their natural white color, plus some believe green tea to be a healthier option than either black tea or coffee. Brushing teeth after tea or coffee would be an obvious way to prevent them from yellowing, however, brushing immediately after drinking can also damage the enamel of the teeth. By waiting for one hour and then brushing, you can safely clean and prevent black tea or coffee stains from discoloring teeth.
Smoking or chewing tobacco can cause a number of serious oral hygiene conditions, including a yellowing of teeth. On a more serious note, regular smoking can lead to gum disease and tooth loss. Tobacco products affect teeth by disrupting the normal functioning of gum tissue. This causes mouth ulcers, infections and other conditions to develop, weakening the teeth and gums to such an extent that disease sets in.
Tip: Reducing tobacco intake or quitting altogether is an obvious way to prevent our teeth, and mouths in general, from becoming infected. Chewing sugar-free gum and drinking water after smoking can help to rinse the mouth and teeth of the by-products of tobacco and smoke. Smokers should also brush their teeth regularly – at least three times a day – and drink plenty of water.
Soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Sprite contain large amounts of acidic sugar, citric acid and phosphoric acid. These all combine together to attack tooth enamel leaving it weak and vulnerable. The high sugar content also works hard at wearing down enamel, with the result that teeth become easily discolored. Cola products in particular are known to rapidly cause tooth discoloration.
Tip: Many people think that sugar-free soft drinks are a healthier alternative, yet these products also contain high quantities of citric acid which damage teeth. Switching to natural fruit juices or simply increasing the amount of water consumed each day will help protect teeth.
Candy, sweets and chocolate are high in sugar content, flavourings and colorings. Most candy bars and hard sweets will leave both the tongue and teeth discolored after eating. Hard sweets that take a long time to eat also contribute to yellowing teeth due to the length of time they are inside the mouth. Simply put, the longer it takes to eat, the more damage it is doing to teeth enamel.
Tip: Everyone likes to treat themselves to some candy once in a while. These sweets do considerable damage to teeth and therefore should only be eaten on occasion.
Curry sauce, tomato ketchup and condiments such as vinegar and soy sauce all contain colorings that contribute to tooth discoloration. These colorings and other additives embed themselves in weak parts of enamel, enabling them to further weaken the protective coating of teeth.
Tip: Sauces and other condiments are an integral part of many dishes and are hard to remove from one’s diet. Eating steamed or boiled vegetables as part of a meal that includes sauces will help to protect teeth. Vegetables, in particular greens such as broccoli or spinach, work to strengthen tooth enamel and help reinforce its protective coating. After eating, drinking water or spending some time to rinse water around the mouth will also help to clean teeth and remove any unwanted colorings.