Why Do Teeth Turn Yellow?
A number of different things can affect the color of your teeth and turn them yellow.
Credit: Subbotina Anna | Shutterstock


While celebrities and models may sport pearly white teeth, the smiles of most people are a tad duller. But this shouldn't be too surprising. A number of different things can affect the color of your teeth and turn them that dreaded yellow hue. 

Most causes of tooth discoloration fall into two broad categories: extrinsic and intrinsic stains. Yellowing can also be caused by a wide array of health factors.

You'll find extrinsic stains on the surface of the enamel, the hard, outermost layer of your teeth. While enamel is harder than bone, according to the Mayo Clinic, it can still be easily stained. 

"The No. 1 cause of teeth yellowing is lifestyle," said Dr. Justin Philipp of J. Philipp Dentistry in Chandler, Arizona. "Smoking, drinking coffees and teas, chewing tobacco are the worst."

Not surprisingly, other dark-colored foods and beverages, including red wine, colas, dark sauces and various fruits, such as grapes, blueberries and pomegranates, also have potential to stain teeth. These items are high in chromogens, pigment-producing substances with a penchant for sticking to tooth enamel.

Acidic foods and beverages can worsen matters by eroding tooth enamel and making it easier for chromogens to latch onto the teeth. Tannin, a bitter compound found in wine and tea, also helps chromogens attach to tooth enamel.

Intrinsic stains occur within the tooth, when various factors alter the light-transmitting properties of the enamel and the underlying dentin.

Numerous medications can cause intrinsic stains. If children take the antibiotics tetracycline and doxycycline while their teeth are still developing (before the age of 8), their teeth may turn brownish-yellow. During adulthood, chlorhexidine, an antiseptic used in prescription-strength mouthwash to treat gingivitis, can cause discolorations. Likewise, the acne-fighting drug minocycline, a derivative of tetracycline, stains teeth. Chemotherapy directed at the head and neck and chemotherapy drugs can also result in intrinsic stains. Even relatively common drugs, such as antihistamines, Albuterol and blood pressure medications, can sometimes yellow teeth.

Excessive fluoride isn't good for your teeth color, either. Fluorosis, the yellowing of teeth from too much fluoride, is a problem mostly in areas where the drinking water contains high levels of naturally occurring fluoride, such as areas where people get their water from wells, according to Philipp.

Your dental treatments may also be causing your yellowing. "Many dental materials can cause discoloration, specially amalgam restorations (silver fillings)," said Dr. Bruno Sharp of Sharp Dentistry in Miami, Florida.

Other than stains, genetics, age and health can be other causes of yellowing. 

"There are many reasons why some people can have yellowing of their teeth," said Dr. Edita Outericka, the dental director at Dynamic Dental, a general, family and multi-specialty modern dental practice in Mansfield, Massachusetts. "The No. 1 reason is genetics. Dentinogenesis Imperfecta and Amelogenesis Imperfecta are two genetic defects that cause the teeth to develop improperly and could lead to discoloration. Simply put some people are more likely to have yellow coloring to their teeth." 

Similar to your complexion or the color of your eyes, you may simply be born with teeth that appear more yellow (or more white) than other people's teeth, according to Outericka. Part of this has to do with the thickness of your enamel, which is semi-translucent. That is, if you have thin enamel, the true color of your naturally yellowish dentin will shine through.

Similarly, your enamel thins as you age, making your teeth appear more yellow. This can also cause sensitivity problems in teeth. According to the Mayo Clinic, the best protection against thinning enamel is proper saliva production and fluoride. Brush twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste, drink water treated in fluoride and see a doctor if you are experiencing dry mouth to help prevent thinning.

Poor health can play a large factor in teeth color. Yellowing can occur after suffering a high fever at a young age. Severe neonatal jaundice is another possible reason for teeth yellowing, according to Outericka. Sickle Cell Disease can cause yellowing and other abnormalities in teeth, as well.

The best prevention for yellow teeth is watching what you eat. You should also practice good dental hygiene and visit a dental professional often. The most easily repaired cause of yellowing teeth is poor oral hygiene. Plaque and tarter build up appears yellow. Removing that buildup before decay sets in is critical to a white smile and healthy teeth, according to Outericka.

"It is best to have your teeth cleaned regularly by a professional " said Outericka. "This will help remove staining. Also, drinking through a straw will minimize the time the fluids stay on the teeth surfaces. Should you not be happy with the color of your teeth, consult a dentist. There are numerous treatments that can be performed which could lead to a bright white smile!"

Additional reporting by Joseph Castro, Live Science Contributor.

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