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The surprising things that are causing your teeth to look yellow

December 5th 2018 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment

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Hold the turmeric latte - some of the triggers of teeth yellowing aren’t necessarily what you’d assume. Here are a few common culprits and what you can do if your teeth are yellowing

Teeth whitening is currently the most popular non-surgical cosmetic treatment in the UK according to Mintel, with 27 per cent of us interested in whitening our teeth and 30 per cent of us unhappy or very unhappy with the appearance of our teeth. The rise of illegal high street teeth whitening services speaks of our preoccupation with pearly whites, but short of risking our health and livelihoods to achieve Hollywood-esque smiles, there’s plenty of ways to reduce teeth yellowing and make our teeth look naturally whiter. Knowing what could be at the root of discolouration, adapting our lifestyles and tweaking our dental health regime could be all it takes to gradually brighten teeth and prevent yellowing and staining. Dental hygienist and founder of the award-winning London Hygienist practices Anna Middleton gave us the lowdown on what can lead to yellowing and how to dodge discolouration.

“If it can stain your carpet it can probably stain your teeth”

That’s food for thought right there. Anna highlights that as well as the usual teeth staining trio of coffee, tea and red wine, even food and drink that’s very healthy can cause yellowing over time or when consumed in large quantities on a regular basis:

“Dark berries and acidic food and drinks, especially of the citrus variety, can make yellowing worse, as can vibrant coloured curries with spices such as turmeric. Artificially coloured food and drinks are common culprits of yellowing too.”

That’s not a reason to ditch the vegetables or avoid curries, just a case for mixing up your diet if you’re concerned about staining. Lifestyle factors can influence how yellow your teeth look too…

The lifestyle list

Check the following before you invest in expensive whitening treatments - this lot can all make yellowing all the more likely according to Anna…

Poor oral hygiene

You probably knew this one was coming…

“Ineffective brushing and missing bits when you’re cleaning in between the teeth will lead to plaque building up on the surface of your teeth. Over time this hardens along the gum line and in between the teeth. This build up is known as calculus or tartar and appears yellowish in colour initially but it can also attract further staining because it is rough, making the problem worse.”

Smoking

Yellow teeth provide yet more incentive to quit…

“Smoking will stain teeth owing to both the tar and nicotine content of cigarettes.”

If you’re struggling to give up, read our expert guide on quitting smoking for good. Not easy but definitely worth it.

Whitening toothpastes

This seems like quite the contradiction - Anna explains why whitening toothpaste can sometimes make teeth staining worse:

“While whitening toothpaste may remove surface stains it can be abrasive and damage enamel (the hard-outer layer of the tooth), making it even more prone to staining. Whitening toothpastes on the high street also often doesn't contain any active whitening ingredients, or they may be missing key ingredients required to maintain healthy teeth such as fluoride.”

The following Instagram trend also attracts some flak as far as staining is concerned…

Charcoal toothpastes

Trendy but not always good news for yellowing:

“Charcoal toothpaste is generally not as abrasive as whitening toothpaste, however, there is no evidence to prove its effectiveness on stain removal. In fact, it may even contribute to negative aesthetic effects as the charcoal particles can become embedded in cracks in the teeth or restoration margins around crowns, veneers and fillings, attracting further yellowing and staining over time.”

Certain medications and medical treatments

Your health always comes first but Anna highlights that yellowing can be a side-effect of certain medical treatments in particular:

“Treatments involving radiation and chemotherapy are known to cause discoloration, especially when they are centred on the head and neck areas. The antibiotics tetracycline and doxycycline are also well documented and proven to cause dark grey and brown stains on teeth. In addition some medications can cause a dry mouth, and this lack of saliva can affect the natural cleansing of the mouth and increase the risk of dental decay, gum disease and staining.”

Acid attacks

This is the tooth erosion caused by daily eating and drinking. Not to be avoided of course but preserving enamel can help teeth to retain whiteness too:

“Erosion is the loss of tooth enamel caused by acid attacks. Every time you eat or drink (even if it's healthy food and drink) the bacteria in the mouth are fed and produce acid. This attacks the teeth, especially the hard-outer layer known as enamel, causing permanent and irreversible damage. Teeth can appear yellower over time as the underlying dentine, which is darker, becomes more visible.”

How to combat teeth yellowing

Make a dentist’s appointment. Probably around now.

If the last time you went for a check-up is a distant, dusty memory in your calendar it’s probably time to pick up the phone:

“Keep to regular dental and hygienist appointments. Visit the dentist at least once a year and the hygienist a minimum of twice a year to keep your smile as gleaming as possible. It’ll pay off.”

Invest in an electric toothbrush

Hands-down superior for polishing away stains apparently:

“Invest in an electric toothbrush – I recommend the Sonicare Protective Clean, £69.99. It is seven times more effective than a manual toothbrush offering up to 100 per cent more plaque removal and it features a two minute timer and a pressure sensor to ensure that you don’t overbrush which can cause abrasion and damage the gums. It also has a brush head replacement reminder, as you should do this every three months (it’s easy to forget).”

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Use a toothpaste that hardens enamel

Protecting and remineralising tooth enamel helps teeth to remain strong in the face of acid attacks:

“Using a toothpaste that’s specifically designed to fight acid erosion twice a day can make a real difference when it comes to restoring natural whiteness too. I recommend Regenerate Enamel Science Advanced Toothpaste, £10 for 75ml.”

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Speaking of acid…

Don’t graze throughout the day

Anna stresses that keeping acid exposure to a minimum makes staining and yellowing less likely:

“Keep acids and sugars to meal times only and aim for no more than three to four sugary or acidic ‘attacks’ per day.”

There are a number of steps you can take after eating that will protect the health and colour of your tooth enamel too…

Avoid enamel exposure

We don’t mean remaining close lipped at all times, but a few simple daily hygiene habits can make all the difference according to Anna:

“Use a straw when drinking, but avoid plastic ones - paper or metal is more eco-conscious. Rinse your mouth with water after eating or drinking, or better still use Regenerate Advanced Foaming Mouthwash, £10 for 50ml. It acts on the early erosion caused by daily acid attacks to restore enamel mineral content and micro-hardness. I like the handy travel sized bottle - it means that you can use it on the go yet it has as many rinses as a normal, full-sized bottle of liquid mouthwash.”

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Get saliva flowing

It’s all in the name of nixing acid - this step is handy if you don’t have access to a sink:

“Sugar-free gum and mints increase salivary flow which can neutralise plaque acids, help to remove food debris and strengthen teeth over time. Look for products containing xylitol as this can help to fight tooth decay.”

What to do if you’re teeth are already yellow

Rather than jump into your nearest whitening tray, Anna advocates reflecting on what might be triggering yellowing and staining and sorting a strategy from there:

“It is important to firstly identify what is causing the discolouration, keeping in mind that teeth naturally vary in shade due to your unique makeup. Visit your dentist or dental hygienist for a professional opinion first - they will be able to assess your suitability for whitening and discuss which options are available to you.

“You may benefit from a professional clean or ‘air-flow’ (a powerful but gentle combination of water, air and fine powder) used as a stain removal treatment, which can leave teeth looking whiter as any deposits and staining will be removed. Don’t waste your money buying so called whitening products online or instore – they will NOT work! As for whitening toothpastes, we’ve covered this but while it may be tempting to turn to these to remove surface stains, they can scratch the hard-outer layer of the tooth, making it even more prone to staining in the long-run.

“If whitening is the road you’ve chosen to go down, options include in-surgery treatments that take approximately an hour or home whitening systems that gradually brighten your teeth over the course of around two weeks. Home-whitening is a one-off investment as you then keep your custom made trays and you can ‘top-up’ your whitening a few times a year with professionally formulated gels.”

Whitening can have wondrous effects but nailing the basics of oral hygiene, harnessing the power of new enamel remineralisation technology and drinking coffee, red wine and berry smoothies in moderation could save you the expense, or help you to maintain the whitening results you’ve forked out for. Either way the future’s bright…

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