Are we all doomed to have yellow teeth? Discoloration over time

By – Bad Breath Expert
Posted: July 1, 2015
SUMMARY: Here's a look at what causes discoloration, how age plays a role in the process and what you can do to maintain your teeth.

Society values a bright, pristine set of teeth, as evidenced by the popularity of whitening toothpastes and kits (like TheraBreath's), as well as dentists who specialize in teeth-whitening procedures. Many people invest money, time and effort into the preservation of their smile, but is it all in vain? Will we inevitably lose the youthful look of white teeth and be doomed to bear a grin that's yellow? Here's a look at what causes discoloration, how age plays a role in the process and what you can do to maintain your teeth:

How tooth color works
To understand discoloration, you need to know how a tooth is constructed. Teeth have three layers: pulp, dentin and enamel. The pulp is the softest, innermost layer of your teeth that's built of nerves and blood vessels. The dentin is the next layer outward. It's harder than pulp, but still porous. What's more, dentin in naturally darker than the outermost layer of your teeth. Enamel is the exterior coating that protects the rest of your teeth. It shields them from erosion and is white. In fact, the white color of your teeth comes exclusively from the enamel.

Discoloration can occur in two ways: either stains form in the enamel thanks to lifestyle factors like what you eat and drink, or the enamel wares down, revealing the darker dentin beneath. What's more, any change to the pulp or dentin can also cause discoloration visible on the surface of the teeth.

As you can see, tooth discoloration is more complex and diverse than accumulating a lifetime of coffee stains.

Aging and yellowing
Unlike stains caused by your lifestyle, age-related discoloration isn't strictly tied to what you eat and drink. Of course, a lifetime of staining foods can contribute to discoloration, but age-related discoloration, as it is defined, is a separate concept. Yellowing caused by age is the result of the thinning of your enamel and the consequent thickening of your dentin. In fact, both occurrences can work together to create yellowing, even though each could take place independently.

Because thinning enamel is so intrinsically connected to age-related discoloration, it's important to maintain that protective coating. Perhaps the best way to ward off yellowing as you get older is to preserve your enamel.

Acid is the No. 1 culprit in the eroding of enamel, so you should avoid it to protect your pearly whites. Of course, it's not as simple as cutting back on orange juice and tomatoes. Sugar reacts with plaque to create acid in your mouth, so staying away from it is also imperative. To go along with that, use toothpaste and mouthwash that contains fluoride, as this substance restores enamel and neutralizes acids in your mouth.

Perhaps most importantly, visit your dentist regularly. By getting checkups and following up with restorative treatments, such as fillings and crowns, you can prolong the life of your teeth. Even if your teeth feel fine, having a dentist clean them can protect your smile.

Other discoloration culprits
The truth is, yellowing is likely to happen to everyone, as age naturally thins your enamel. However, with proper oral care, you can lessen the degree to which that occurs. What's more, fighting off other forms of discoloration may keep the appearance of yellowing at bay. Foods and beverages that stain your teeth include:

  • Coffee.
  • Wine (both red and white).
  • Juice.
  • Soda.
  • Colorful foods (ex., berries, dyed foods, turmeric, and so on).
  • Sugary foods.

Habits like smoking or chewing tobacco also contribute to discoloration. Avoid such habits, foods and beverages to reduce discoloration. Of course, saying no to a cup of coffee can be hard, so use other strategies to maintain your teeth. Brushing twice a day, chewing sugar-free gum and drinking plenty of water all help.

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