By Dr Tamika Ferguson
When we look at magazines and watch TV, the first thing we notice about a celebrity’s smile is the colour of their teeth. Their teeth are usually pearly white, but if you look around at everyday people our smiles appear a little duller. There are a number of things that can affect the colour of our teeth and turn them that yellow hue.
Extrinsic stains typically develop because of your diet. Dark-coloured foods and beverages, for example coffee, red wine, black tea and blueberries, can stain the surface of the tooth enamel. Further, smoking and chewing tobacco are well known culprits behind extrinsic stains. Poor oral hygiene is also a factor. Inadequate brushing and flossing allows dental plaque to accumulate on the teeth.
Your teeth may have a yellow hue because of your acidic intake. Over time acidic foods and beverages can cause enamel erosion. If the enamel begins to wear away the yellow dentin will begin to show. Two other factors that can contribute to your teeth appearing yellow are genetics and aging. Similar to skin tone or eye colour, our teeth are also different shades. Some persons are born with thicker and brighter enamel while others have thin enamel. In addition, your enamel thins as you age, meaning as we get older our enamel is gradually worn away.
Discolouration may also be caused by intrinsic factors. Some medications can cause staining. If children (eight years or younger) or pregnant women take tetracycline (an antibiotic) this may cause the child’s teeth to turn brownish-yellow. Further, antihistamines and some blood pressure medications are also known to yellow teeth. Excessive fluoride, either from environmental sources for example water supply or excessive use, and several diseases that affect enamel and dentin can lead to tooth discolouration. Trauma to the facial region, such as a fall can also alter the colour of your teeth.
If you are concerned with the shade of your teeth, several options are available depending on the cause of the discolouration.
Many extrinsic stains caused by food and drink can be removed by regular professional cleanings and using proper tooth brushing and flossing techniques.
In addition, if you desire whiter teeth a bleaching agent can be applied to the tooth enamel. Your dentist will tell you if you are a good candidate for teeth whitening. With this method, the dentist applies a light-activated bleaching gel. It causes the teeth to get significantly whiter in about 45 minutes.
Bleaching will not work to lighten some stains such as tetracycline staining and severe fluorosis. There are alternative ways your dentist may recommend to cover the discoloured areas. A tooth can be covered with a composite bonding material. Bonding uses composite resin to reshape and recolour your teeth. Another option is porcelain veneers. These are thin ceramic shells that cover the outer surfaces of the teeth.
Although teeth whitening, bonding and porcelain veneers are available, remember you still want your teeth to look as natural as possible.
If you have issues with the colour of your teeth consult your dentist so you can be proud of your smile!