Meg de Jong
Ever given yourself a big grin in the mirror, only to notice that your pearly whites are more yellow than the sparkling white you have in your mind’s eye? Teeth discolouration has a number of different causes, but is a very common condition. Here’s what you need to know.
Why do teeth stain?
“Discolouration of your teeth can come both from inside your tooth or from external factors,” explains Cape Town-based dental hygienist Emma Coulter. “Factors such as age, medication, tooth trauma and fillings can cause intrinsic staining (from within the tooth), while extrinsic staining can come from food and beverages such as turmeric, red wine, tea and coffee, as well as smoking.”
Emma King, a dental hygienist and head of marketing and training at Zoom Whitening Southern Africa, sums it up simply: “Any food or drink that can stain a white top can stain your teeth.”
What can you do to remove or diminish stains?
Stains on the outside of your teeth can be removed by brushing or a professional cleaning, but intrinsic stains can only be removed by an oxidation process requiring the use of chemicals such as hydrogen or carbamide peroxide, explains King.
Coulter explains that regular dental hygiene cleaning appointments are very important as any rough areas, plaque or calcified plaque (tartar) accumulation will cause staining to occur faster and last longer. One should see a dental hygienist every six months, or more often if there is above-average plaque build-up.
In-house dental bleaching treatments offered by dental practices and home-bleaching kits can also help reduce staining and give a whiter overall tooth colour.
What can you do to prevent stains?
“Practising good oral hygiene is the best way to stop your teeth from staining,” says King. Brushing twice a day and flossing daily are non-negotiables.
The next thing you need to do is to cut back or quit whatever you’re doing that’s staining your teeth. This includes things like giving up smoking, coffee and curry. “Drinking water after eating or drinking foods that could stain your teeth can also decrease the amount of stains that accumulate,” advises King.
She also recommends sugar-free chewing gum with xylitol to help increase your saliva flow and naturally cleanse your mouth. “Only chew until the flavour is gone, and don’t chew more than four to five pieces per day,” she recommends.
When should you worry about the staining?
Both experts agree: When your teeth have become discoloured enough that it affects your self-confidence, it’s time to do something about it!
However, sometimes it’s not just a cosmetic and self-confidence issue, and could be something more serious. If you have a single dark tooth, it could be that a nerve could have died due to trauma such as a fall – this could lead to an abscess forming, so it’s key to see your dentist immediately. White spots could also possibly indicate weakened enamel, which will also need expert help.