The colour of our teeth is determined at birth by the colour of our dentine. Dentine plays such an important role in determining our tooth colour because the enamel that is on top of it is a chain of minerals, and is more or less colourless. The enamel offers protection against occlusal forces, and also prevents acidic foods and drinks from doing damage to the tooth structure. But enamel gets used up over time, and the dentine will be less and less opaque and the colour will become stronger. Chewing causes tiny, visible cracks in the enamel, and bacteria love these spots, and will leave in them and breed in them with ease, this way the tooth becomes less colourful and more infected than before. The stains that are caused by these bacteria are what are removed during a whitening session. Ideally, your saliva has enough free floating minerals in it to fill the cracks up, but these cracks can materialize and become stained again.
Our teeth can be stained not just from the outside, but from the inside as well. Internal discoloration comes from some underlying problem in the tooth structure, like trauma, or fluoride deficiency, or being exposed to some kind of chemical. Back in the day, a patient would be told that there is nothing that can be done with discoloration of this sort. But nowadays, these problems can be remedied.
Discoloration of the outer structures occurs when a darker material, like tobacco smoke or coffee, or just the passage of time, leaves a mark or stain on the tooth surface. Easier cases can be remedied with special toothpaste, with tooth powder, or with some whitening strips. If the discoloration is persistent, then chemical intervention may be necessary, and this cannot be handled alone.
Basic colour: Everyone has a given dentine colour that they are born with, and that becomes more and more apparent as the enamel disappears. The yellow-brown scale usually has better results than the green-grey scale.
Tooth quality: The colour of your teeth is also dependant on how thick and how transparent your teeth are. Thick and opaque teeth will seem brighter, whiter and react better to whitening. Thin, wispy teeth have less pigmentation, and pigments are essentially what we are working with when we whiten our teeth. There si currently no procedure to make your teeth more opaque.
Eating habits: Discernible stains are caused by foods with a dark or very strong colour, like carrots, coffee, cola, oranges, etc. Enamel can be destroyed by vinegary and bitter or acidic foods or drinks, like citrus fruits for example.
Age: Like it or not, time will do a number on your teeth, causing more stains and plaque, your enamel will thin out as well, and your teeth will thus lose their shine and their whiteness as well. While teens will experience a massive change when their teeth are whitened, this change will be less noticeable in your twenties. By the time you enter 40, that yellow will have changed to a more brownish hue, and you need to take better care of your teeth. Later on, removing stains will become a real challenge.
Smoking: Smoking causes brown sediment to appear on your tooth surface, and it can even spread to your internal structures, causing more serious discoloration.
Trauma: Some falls and traumas can leave your teeth discoloured, and the enamel can get hurt or ruined, causing quicker discoloration than usual.
Bruxism: Stress and pressure cause us to grind our teeth at night, without our noticing it, or even knowing about it. This behaviour also causes cracks on the enamel, leading to discoloration.
Medication: Certain medication, like the antibiotic Tetracycline can cause the discoloration of teeth if taken during teething, and it can cause a brown discoloured streak across the tooth surfaces. Too much fluoride can leave white splotches on your teeth.
Prevention is always easier, not to mention cheaper, than fixing an existing problem. Don’t eat acidic foods too often, try and ease up on foods that have a dark hue, don’t drink or smoke, but if you can only quit one, quit smoking. Make sure you get enough fluoride, and that you do not brush your teeth for around 2 hours after you eat fruits, but do rinse afterwards. Try not to grind your teeth, and if you like to play sports where your teeth can get damaged, wear a tooth guard.
If you already have discoloration there is no need to panic. Brush your teeth every week or every other week with tooth powder or sodium bicarbonate, this can remove external stains. Look for whitening toothpaste and mouthwash. But the most important thing you can do is to go to a dental professional once or twice a year, and get your chompers cleaned, and possibly even whitened. If you have internal discoloration, find a professional who will help you to remove these stains.
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