Why Do Teeth Turn Yellow?

I’ve heard it said that we’re beginning to live in an age of aesthetics. A perfect storm of different factors, from the instant access of social media to the omnipresence of cameras has brought about this age. In an age of aesthetics, there are a lot of people who are concerned about their appearance. Truth be told, people have been worried about their appearance for millennia, but teeth whitening products do seem to be a more important part of the market than they used to be. That brings about an important question, though: why do teeth turn yellow, and should we even be worried about it?

To understand why teeth turn yellow, it’s first important to understand a bit about how teeth are structured. There are four primary tissues that make up the tooth and the two that are relevant to colour are enamel and dentin. On a tooth’s surface is enamel, the hardest substance in the human body, made up almost entirely of minerals (96%). These minerals make enamel look semi-translucent and give it an off-white or even bluish tinge. 

The second material, dentin, ranges in colour from yellow to brown. The translucency of enamel means you can see dentin through enamel, which gives teeth their colour. You’ll note that there are a lot of different colours at work here – blues, yellows, and off-white, all filtered through the translucence of enamel. In other words, teeth are almost never a stark white colour.

As you age, your enamel begins to wear away. When your enamel wears, more dentin shows through; that’s why teeth get yellow as we get older. The appearance of yellow teeth, then, can be reduced through the process of remineralization. Remineralization is the natural process by which tissues in the teeth are repaired. The reason water and toothpaste are fluoridated is to aid in the process of remineralization. Explained differently, when you take care of your teeth, you’re taking care of the enamel that makes them look less yellow.

There are a number of other processes that can cause your teeth to yellow. The most talked about are liquids that stain your teeth – red wine, tea, coffee, and many others. The biggest culprits are substances containing tannins, which are a yellow-brownish colour, and are readily absorbed by your porous teeth. Smoking can also discolour teeth.

Other things that could cause your teeth to yellow include a number of oral health diseases as well as certain medications. When you find your teeth are yellowing rapidly, it’s a good idea to talk to your dentist. Here at Markham, we offer teeth cleaning Winnipeg has trusted for years; we can also tell if there are other factors contributing to your teeth yellowing.

Looking for more information on what can cause teeth to yellow? There’s an excellent review of the available literature published in the British Dental Journal. Scientific literature can seem intimidating, but if you read the abstract and the summary, you’ll probably learn quite a bit about the subject.