White teeth – facts and myths
A beautiful, white smile is something that everyone wants and admires. A perfect smile with white healthy teeth is part of our ideal of beauty and is associated with good health. But is there really a connection between oral health and overall health? Not necessarily. Of course, good oral hygiene helps keep your teeth clean and healthy. However, some people aren’t blessed with perfect white teeth, no matter how often they floss or brush them. Even though their teeth aren’t white doesn’t mean they aren’t healthy.
White teeth, like hair colour or eye colour, can be hereditary. The enamel of your teeth has a natural tint to it and it runs in your family. Why some people have naturally more yellow teeth has to do with the colour and thickness of the tissue that forms the core of the tooth itself, dentine. Dentine is yellowish or yellow-brown in colour and its thickness can vary from person to person. Since enamel in permanent teeth is virtually transparent, the colour of dentine shows through. The darker your dentine is, the more yellow your teeth appear.
What causes tooth discolouration?
Besides hereditary factors, there are other factors that explain why some people have whiter teeth than others. One of these factors is age related. Dentine naturally yellows over time. In addition, the enamel that covers our teeth gets thinner with age, which allows the dentine to show through. This is called ‘intrinsic tooth discolouration’. Intrinsic teeth stains can also be a result of other things.
Possible causes of intrinsic tooth discolouration
- Old age
- Tooth decay
- Tooth trauma. Chips or other injuries to a tooth can also cause it to turn blue, yellow or grey. Tooth darkening or discoloration after a trauma is similar to a bruise on the skin, only this ‘bruise’ doesn’t go away
- Root canal therapy
- Grey or black fillings that shine through the tooth enamel
- Medication. Some medications, such as the antibiotics amoxicillin, minocycline and tetracycline, can cause tooth staining (brown or dark grey lines dispersed across a tooth’s surface)
- Development disorders, such as fluorosis. Fluorosis is a condition which in children is caused by consuming too much fluoride during tooth development. It can cause white speckled spots on teeth.
Extrinsic tooth discolouration is when the outer layer of the tooth (the enamel) is stained. Extrinsic stains can be caused by:
- Foods such as coffee, wine, cola or other drinks or foods can stain teeth. Natural colourants, such as caramel and beetroot juice, synthetic colourants in sweets and processed foods, and sugar and acid in food, for example in soft drinks, citrus fruit or vinegar, can also cause teeth to become increasingly yellow
- Stannous fluoride, a component in some toothpastes, may cause brown and grey striping across the enamel surfaces
- Chlorhexidine mouthwash can cause brown stains on teeth
How to keep your teeth white
Whether you have radiant white teeth or naturally less white teeth, there are things you can do to maintain your teeth’s natural shine and whiteness. They all involve the basics of teeth care:
- Brush your teeth twice a day for about five minutes. Use a soft toothbrush with a small brush head to get in hard-to-reach spots. An electric toothbrush is not necessarily better than a manual one, but is a more favourable choice for some people because the brushing motion is done entirely by the toothbrush. Change your toothbrush every three months.
- Use toothpaste with fluoride. Fluoride strengthens and protects teeth from demineralisation that is caused by acids.
- Brush your gums. Gently massage your gums with your toothbrush as part of your brushing routine.
- Floss daily or use toothpicks or an interdental brush for cleaning in between your teeth.
- Rinse your mouth with mouthwash daily to fight plaque and freshen your breath.
- See a dentist and dental hygienist every six months. A dental hygienist is trained to remove plaque and tartar build-up, which will also make your teeth whiter.
- Examine your food habits and stay away from foods that discolour your teeth.
How to brighten your smile
If your teeth have become yellow or discoloured over the years, there are things you can do to brighten up your smile. What method of tooth whitening is best depends on the cause of discolouration. Discolouration due to illness or medicine use usually requires professional treatment.
In this article we talk about two tooth whitening methods:
- Teeth bleaching;
- Dental facing.
Tooth bleaching can be done at home or at your dentist’s office, using a variety of products and procedures. If you are thinking about bleaching your teeth, be sure to consider the possible risks as some bleaching procedures may damage your teeth or mouth if not done properly.
Tooth bleaching products and procedures:
- Whitening toothpaste. Be sure to use a product that’s safe. Whitening toothpaste is only effective at removing surface stains.
- Mouth guard. The dentist or hygienist will make impressions of your teeth to fabricate a mouth guard appliance for you. Along with the mouth guard, you’ll receive a bleaching solution (peroxide). You’ll be given instructions on how to wear the mouth guard at home. How quickly your teeth become whiter and brighter depends on the level of discolouration.
- In-office bleaching. You can also have your teeth bleached by your dentist. In-office systems generally have a higher percentage of peroxide in the whitening solution compared to at-home systems. Most dentists use a light that they flash on your teeth to accelerate whitening.
- Internal bleaching. Teeth that are discoloured due to a trauma or root canal can be bleached from the inside out. During this procedure, a bleaching agent is placed inside the discoloured (dead) tooth by a dentist. This may be done once or several times, depending upon the severity of discolouration of the tooth.
A facing is a tooth coloured overlay made from composite or a porcelain shield which the dentist bonds to the tooth. Because the facing covers the visible surface of the tooth completely it’s a very effective solution for every type of tooth, regardless of the severity of discolouration. However, this procedure is very expensive. It might be a good idea to check with your insurance provider to determine coverage in advance.
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Last updated on July 14, 2016.