If the prevalence of teeth whitening products is any indication, Americans are concerned about the color of their teeth.
Even though it might make us self-conscious, teeth discoloration is incredibly common, and it can result from a wide range of issues. Understanding these potential causes is essential for anyone who wants to maintain a pearly white smile, because it allows you and your dentist to work together in order to prevent and/or manage tooth stains. In that spirit, here are eight of the most common causes of teeth discoloration.
Poor dental hygiene
This one probably won’t come as a shock, but failing to brush and floss on a daily basis is one of the major contributors to tooth discoloration. When you don’t brush and/or floss regularly, this allows bacteria and food particles to stick around in your mouth and cling to your teeth, which can lead to tooth stains. Pair poor dental hygiene habits with any of the other factors on this list, and you’ve just created an oral environment particularly primed for stains.
When it comes to oral health and hygiene, tobacco users can’t catch a break. Not only does chewing or smoking tobacco put you at a higher risk of gum disease and other oral health issues, but it’s also all but guaranteed to advance the yellowing of your teeth.
Certain foods and beverages
They may be delicious, but coffee, tea, wine, soda, and some juices can all do a number on the whiteness of your teeth thanks to their high acidity. Even some good-for-you foods can have a staining effect, including apples, beets, blueberries, cherries, citrus fruits, cranberries, potatoes, raspberries, and tomatoes. As a general rule of thumb, any food that could stain your clothes is also liable to stain your teeth—so add brightly colored candies, popsicles, and so on to this list.
The aging process
It’s a natural consequence of aging that our tooth enamel slowly wears down over time. This can allow for the next layer of the tooth (the dentin) to show through. Because dentin is yellowish in color, this means that many people’s teeth start to look yellower as they age.
Some medical conditions may impact the tooth enamel, which can lead to changes in the color of your teeth. These conditions include metabolic diseases, calcium deficiency, liver disease, rickets, eating disorders, and celiac disease.
A number of medications can contribute to tooth discoloration, including antihistamines, antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, and drugs used to manage high blood pressure. Exposure to the antibiotics tetracycline or doxycycline in utero or before the age of eight can have a similar effect. The same goes for certain medical treatments such as chemotherapy or head and neck radiation. Even some oral rinses (e.g. those containing chlorhexidine or cetylpyridinium chloride) can cause tooth stains.
When it comes to maintaining a bright smile, some people are just born lucky—and others, not so much. Genetics play a role in the brightness and thickness of your enamel, which can have a big impact on the apparent color of your teeth.
Falling and chipping or otherwise damaging a tooth can harm the tooth’s enamel, which can lead to discoloration of the tooth. This is most common in children but can affect people of all ages.
Now that you understand the potential causes of tooth discoloration, it’s time to work with your dentist to come up with a plan for keeping your smile bright. A proper oral health care routine—including daily brushing and flossing and regular dental checkups—will help, as will cutting back on acidic beverages and quitting smoking. Beyond these basic strategies, solutions for tooth discoloration are determined on a case-by-case basis, so don’t be shy about soliciting your dentist’s insights for maintaining your pearly whites.