Tooth discoloration

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Dental teeth 05

Tooth discoloration: Unattractive to look at

Nobody wants to have yellow teeth. And yet unsightly discolorations caused by coffee, tea & co. are widespread. Find out here what you should know about this and read what really helps.

Tooth discoloration – what is it?

The natural color of teeth varies from person to person. The color spectrum ranges from white to gray and yellow tones. The thickness and composition of the enamel and dentin are primarily responsible for the individual tooth color.

If color deviations occur, one speaks of tooth discoloration or yellow teeth. The most common causes of tooth discoloration are, for example, the color pigments from tea, red wine or coffee. However, internal injuries to the tooth or certain medications can also cause teeth to become discolored. Colored deposits on the teeth are usually harmless and do not cause pain. They can usually be removed by regular brushing with suitable toothpastes or by professional teeth cleaning at the dentist. In the case of stubborn or internal discoloration, chemical whitening methods (bleaching) may also be an option under certain circumstances.
Good to know: The dentin (tooth bone) is darker than the overlying enamel. If the enamel is eroded, the dentin shines through and the teeth appear darker. This is also the reason why tooth color changes over the course of life.

Tooth discoloration: Causes

Often it is the color pigments from coffee, tea or tobacco that cause teeth to become unsightly discolored. However, medications or malnutrition are also possible causes.

How do yellow teeth develop?

The causes of yellow teeth are manifold. Basically, a distinction is made between “external” and “internal” tooth discolorations.

External tooth discoloration:

  • They are caused by color deposits on the tooth surface

Internal tooth discoloration:

  •     Here, changes inside the tooth lead to discoloration

Internal tooth discoloration

Yellow teeth can also develop from “inside”. During tooth development, for example, blood dyes or medications can be incorporated into the teeth. This affects the natural tooth color and the teeth appear darker or “yellower”. Injuries, malnutrition, too much fluoride or genetic causes can also cause yellow teeth.

 The causes of internal tooth discoloration are for example:

  • Excessive intake of fluoride (fluorosis)
  • Malnutrition (e.g. calcium, phosphate, vitamins)
  • Some antibiotics (e.g. tetracycline, phenoxymethylpenicillin, erythromycin)
  • Genetic defects (e.g. amelogenesis imperfecta)
  • Bleeding in the dental pulp
  • Root canal fillings
  • Age-related processes

What helps against yellow teeth?

Everyone wants a naturally white smile. But how do you get rid of annoying tooth discoloration? And does it always have to be an aggressive bleaching procedure?

How do yellow teeth become white again?

As a rule, tooth discoloration is a cosmetic problem. A bright white smile stands for attractiveness, prosperity and success. Therefore, more and more people take advantage of the possibility to whiten their teeth. In most cases, however, tooth discoloration is caused by superficial deposits, such as coffee, tea or tobacco smoke. Here, even thorough and regular tooth cleaning can contribute to whitening.

If conventional tooth brushing is not sufficient to remove tooth discoloration, other methods can be considered depending on the cause and severity of the discoloration.

Mechanical (abrasive) whitening for superficial discoloration:

  • Special toothpastes
  • Professional tooth cleaning

Chemical whitening for stubborn or internal discoloration:

  • Bleaching (whitening therapy)

Special toothpastes for white teeth

Special “whitening” toothpastes offer a good way to regain the natural whiteness of teeth. They contain special excipients or particles that support thorough removal of superficial discoloration and polish the tooth surface. This effect is achieved by abrasive ingredients (emerizing particles). Good to know: The measure of tooth abrasion is called the RDA (relative dentin abrasion) value. The higher this value, the higher the “emery effect” of the toothpaste.

As the toothpastes with “whitening effect” have a higher proportion of abrasive ingredients than conventional toothpastes, “whitening” toothpastes have also been specially developed for sensitive teeth.

External tooth discoloration

Dyes in food, tobacco or medications can cause a deviation from the natural tooth color by adhering to the teeth. Plaque or tartar can also darken due to the color pigments.

The most common triggers of external tooth discoloration are:

  • Red wine
  • Tea (not only black tea)
  • Coffee
  • Tobacco (nicotine)
  • Spices (e.g. saffron)
  • Certain fruits (blueberries, black cherries)
  • Preparations containing iron or nitrates
  • Frequent vomiting (e.g. in bulimia)
  • Caries

  • Professional teeth cleaning for tooth discoloration

    Professional teeth cleaning at the dentist’s serves not only for caries prophylaxis, but also leads to whiter teeth through the application of cleaning and polishing pastes. In case of stubborn deposits, different instruments (e.g. powder blasting device) can be used. Since the dentist identifies and cleans even hard-to-reach places in the mouth, professional teeth cleaning is an important part of oral hygiene. It is recommended to have it performed twice a year.


    Chemical bleaching treatments: Teeth whitening

    If the discoloration of the teeth originates from the “inside” or the external deposits cannot be removed by abrasive methods, bleaching treatment may be an option under certain circumstances.

    In bleaching, the discoloration is not removed by the “emery effect”, but by chemical processes (oxidation). In this process, the active ingredient (usually hydrogen peroxide) penetrates the tooth in question and can lighten discolored components. Teeth whitening can be performed in different ways:

    • Over-the-counter whitening substances
    • Trays with bleaching gel customized by the dentist (home bleaching)
    • During sessions in the dentist’s office (in-office bleaching)

    Prerequisites for bleaching are healthy teeth and gums. If the enamel is thin or has defects, the hydrogen peroxide can cause pain and damage to the teeth. Also caries or leaking fillings are reasons against bleaching treatment. Good to know: Fillings, crowns or bridges are not whitened by a bleaching treatment.

    Note: Bleaching treatments should always be performed under the supervision of a dentist. Bleaching using over-the-counter preparations is not recommended. If used improperly, bleaching agents can cause pain-sensitive teeth or gum irritation.



    Tooth discoloration: Risk factors

    Advanced age, smoking and coffee drinking – these and other factors increase the risk of unsightly tooth discoloration.



    What makes yellow teeth?

    Cigarette smoke has a significant negative impact on oral health. Not only does it promote bad breath, sensitive teeth or tongue plaque, but also yellow teeth. So there are more than enough reasons to put the cigarette to one side for good.

    Coffee, tea & red wine
    If you look at the most common causes of yellow teeth, it’s mainly the staining pigments in certain foods that leave marks on teeth. Those who drink a lot of coffee, tea or red wine are more likely to get yellow teeth, as the pigments are deposited on the teeth over time. Good to know: These deposits can be reduced if you rinse your mouth with water in between drinks and brush your teeth regularly.

    Brushing teeth incorrectly
    Brushing your teeth the wrong way can also cause yellow teeth. Sounds paradoxical, but if you scrub your teeth with a toothbrush directly after an acidic meal, the whitish enamel can suffer. This causes it to lose substance – in the long run, the darker dentin shines through more and more and the teeth appear darker. For this reason, you should wait at least 30 minutes after a meal before starting to clean your teeth.

    Certain medications
    If the immune system is weakened and one is frequently dependent on antibiotics, this can also lead to unsightly tooth discoloration. Iron supplements can also cause yellow teeth. In addition, medications such as antihistamines, ibuprofen, antidepressants, or blood pressure medications can impair saliva flow and thus also promote deposits on the teeth.

    Tooth enamel becomes thinner with age. This is simply because the outer protective layer of the teeth wears away over time. This makes the dentin under the enamel, which is darker than the enamel, more visible. As a result, the teeth appear more yellow.

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