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What Causes Yellow Teeth and How to Whiten it

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications


The foods we eat, the beverages we drink and age itself work against our teeth, causing discolouration over time. Teeth can become yellow due to stains — both deep and surface-level — as well as other causes that aren't always under our control. Whether the discolouration is due to staining or other factors, learn how to get rid of yellow teeth through over-the-counter products and professional whitening at the dentist.


What Causes Yellow Teeth?

  • Food and Drinks Coffee, tea and wine are all major causes of tooth discolouration due to their dark colours. In addition, acidic drinks like soda and certain fruits and vegetables can cause yellow teeth.
  • Smoking Tobacco products, like cigarettes, contain teeth-staining particles that stick in the microscopic ridges of tooth enamel. The particles build up and stain the teeth, with discolouration becoming darker and more difficult to remove over time.
  • Thin Enamel Although coffee and cigarettes leave stains on your teeth, thin tooth enamel also makes teeth look yellow. Tooth enamel is the hard surface of your teeth, and underneath it is a pale brown substance called dentine. Thick enamel looks white, but thin enamel allows dentine tones to show through, making teeth look yellow. Enamel naturally wears thin as people age, but acids from food and drinks also thin the enamel by eroding its surface.
  • Medications Other causes of yellow teeth include taking antibiotics and other medications. Excessive fluoride intake in young children can cause yellow-stained adult teeth later on. More often, though, antibiotics and high fluoride levels cause blotching rather than an overall yellow tone to the teeth.

And sometimes, yellow teeth are just genetic.

How to Get Rid of Yellow Teeth

Whether your teeth are lightly stained or very yellowed, there are multiple methods to choose from to get rid of yellow teeth — gradually or very quickly, depending on the whitening method you choose.

  • Professional Teeth Whitening If you need to go from a yellow smile to a brilliant white one quickly, your best option is to see your dentist for an in-office whitening treatment. Your dentist will use a whitener with a strong concentration of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, sometimes using a UV or LED light or other device to speed up the whitening process. Your teeth will be noticeably whiter at the end of the treatment, though your dentist may suggest more than one treatment if your teeth have yellowed considerably.
  • In-Home Teeth Whitening Your dentist can also provide you with an at-home whitening kit that includes a custom mouthpiece and whitening gel with a lower concentration of hydrogen peroxide. By wearing the mouthpiece filled with whitening gel each day for a number of weeks, you can achieve a whiter smile.
  • Over-the-Counter Teeth Whitening There is also an ever-growing array of whitening products you can buy at the store, from whitening strips to mouthwashes, toothpastes and even whitening pens. These contain a lower concentration of whitening agent, and the toothpastes often contain an abrasive component to help remove surface stains from the enamel of your teeth.

While these products don't work as quickly as professional treatments, they are convenient ways to work towards your goal of getting rid of yellow teeth.

Preventing Yellow Teeth

If you want to keep your teeth nice and white, avoid smoking and cut back on coffee and soft drinks. Get into the habit of using a straw when drinking dark-coloured and acidic beverages to further help prevent yellow teeth. Drink milk or tap water after eating or drinking something acidic to help reduce the acid's eroding effect.

Brushing and flossing also help, as well as avoiding snacks between meals to allow your saliva to dilute the acids in your mouth. Make sure to use dental products with fluoride to protect your teeth, and get any dry mouth symptoms treated with the help of your dentist.

When brushing twice a day and flossing doesn't help improve the appearance of your yellow teeth, it might be time to consider these whitening options. With so many ways to treat yellow teeth, there's no reason to hide a beautiful smile.