Why Do Teeth Get Yellow?

Sometimes we get the question "Why do teeth get yellow?" from patients. This is actually a very easy question to answer. There are, in general, eight factors that contribute to the yellowing of teeth: 

Main Causes of Tooth Discoloration

Dental Hygiene

Most of the time, yellow teeth are caused by the gradual buildup of plaque and stain-producing substances (like coffee or tobacco) over time. Inadequate brushing and flossing allows the "grime" to build up and harden. Thus, the individual who practices proper oral hygiene on a regular basis will counteract these effects while the person who doesn't will notice a decline in the whiteness of their teeth.

Food / Drinks

Heavy drinking and excessive consumption of certain foods, like coffee, also cause your teeth to over time.  Wine, Soda and other dark, sugary beverages seep into the pores in your enamel and stick there from plaque buildup. Some organic foods like potatoes are also known to cause mild discoloration over long periods of time. 

Tobacco Use

Nicotine and tar are the main ingredients in tobacco products which cause your teeth to turn yellow. Not only that but tobacco use can lead to bad breath and forms of gum disease as well as an increased risk of oral cancer. Try blowing cigarette smoke onto a bleached white napkin and observe the effects. This is essentially what happens to your teeth during prolonged use of tobacco products. Therefore, it is wise to avoid tobacco products, if possible.

Age / Genetics

Everybody's mouth is different. Enamel and dentin, the substances that makes your teeth "white", also vary widely from person to person. All other factors being equal, two people who take the same care of their teeth can experience different levels of discoloration based on their age and genetic factors, which influence the buildup and corrosion of both substances.

Other Causes of Tooth Discoloration

Hygiene, food and tobacco aren't the only culprits in causing your teeth to turn yellow, although they are the most common. Other causes often include: 


Teeth that have brown, yellow or purple or gray spots are usually the result of trauma to the tooth. Dark yellow or gray shades can indicate that there is an infection in the tooth which shows up extrinsically (on the outside) as a patch of dull color.


In some cases tooth stains can be related to the use of prescription vitamins containing iron or the use of other medications in conjunction with inadequate oral hygiene. 


Radiation and chemo-therapy can cause teeth discoloration, in addition to certain infections that take place during the teeth's growth and mineralization process (i.e. young children).


Can flouride cause tooth discoloration? In excessive amounts, yes, flouride can yellow, "gray" and/or cause pits to form in the teeth. 

The Best Defense Against Yellow Teeth is a Good Offense (Proper Oral Hygiene)

If you want to give your teeth the best chance to "shine whitely", practicing good oral hygiene, eliminating corrosive substances from your diet and avoiding overexposure to things that cause discoleration. While not all factors are under your control, a great many of them are, which places most people in the driver's seat when it comes to the color of their teeth.

Someone with yellow or discolored teeth can occasionally improve their appearance with certain treatments, including regular teeth whitening. To find out if one of these solutions is right for you, please contact our office and we would be happy to schedule you an appointment for a free consultation with the dentist.


Posted on June 10, 2013 and filed under Oral Hygiene.