ValuedPatient - Healthcare Topics

Why aren’t my teeth white?

With increased interest in teeth whitening, you may wonder why your teeth aren’t naturally white.  There can be many reasons why your smile may not be as white as you would like.  Teeth can naturally range in colour from off white to light yellow or light grey and still be perfectly healthy. It can be genetics, age and lifestyle factors that affect the enamel on your teeth causing yellowing and discolouration.

  • Genetics.  The soft layer in the tooth under the enamel is called dentin.  This naturally has a yellowish hue, whilst the enamel is white.  Some people’s enamel is naturally thinner or translucent allowing the yellowish dentin to show through.  Those whose enamel is thicker will have teeth that look whiter.
  • Age.  General wear and tear on your teeth will cause the enamel to weaken over time, allowing more of the dentin to show through.  This is why as we get older our teeth will tend to look more yellow.
  • Plaque.  This is a sticky layer that forms on your teeth caused by a build-up of bacteria.  This can harden into tartar, if not removed by regular brushing and flossing, and is naturally a pale, yellow colour.
  • Staining.  What we eat and drink can have a big impact on the colour of our teeth.  Drinks like red wine, coffee and tea, red sauces and curries, and other dark coloured liquids or foods contain colour pigments that can move into the upper layers of your teeth causing discolouration.  Smoking can also cause significant staining to your teeth because of the nicotine and tar in the tobacco.  These causes are known as extrinsic as they are caused from an outside source and damage the outer surface of the teeth.  When the discolouration comes from within the tooth, such as through trauma or injury to the tooth, too much fluoride in childhood and certain medications these stains are intrinsic and it is the dentin inside the tooth that will darken or take on a different tinge.

While some of these factors are beyond our control, there are things we can do to minimise discolouration of our teeth.  To help prevent the build-up of plaque and tartar on your teeth, you should maintain a good oral hygiene routine, brushing your teeth two times a day and flossing daily.  Avoid foods and beverages that could cause staining and if you are a smoker, consider quitting. Make sure to have a regular check-up and professional clean with your dentist.