What Causes Yellow Teeth and How Can I Prevent It?

Our smile is one of the first things people notice about us and not so long ago the color of a person’s teeth was hardly noticed or even remarked upon, but in our modern world, fueled by the media, we are constantly bombarded with TV programs with people sporting the most perfect set of pearly white teeth, or commercials telling us to get that ‘perfect’ smile to make us ‘stand out’.

Open any magazine and you will see that not one model has discolored teeth!!, though it’s common knowledge that photographs in particular have been airbrushed and most celebrities or people in the media spotlight have had work done on their teeth to make them white.

However, knowing that doesn’t stop us from feeling inadequate about our own teeth, especially when a ‘gleaming white smile’ now appears to be a requirement of modern day living. As much as we would all like bright white teeth, it isn’t always possible. There are many reasons why people have discolored teeth but for some, achieving that perfect smile, so synonymous with the today’s society, it can be an impossibility.

Why Teeth Turn Yellow?

There are two main types of tooth discoloration: Extrinsic and Intrinsic:

Extrinsic stains occur on the enamel on the outside of the tooth, this enamel is a semi-translucent layer of highly resilient mineral crystals that protects the tooth from damage and bacterial infection. This stain is usually caused by everyday drinking and eating and doesn’t pose a threat to oral hygiene. Stains can range from yellow tints white streaks or brown pits or spots, it is generally regarded as cosmetic and it can be effectively treated using a variety of whitening techniques.

On the other hand, Intrinsic staining is a different problem altogether. It occurs when the inner layer of dentine inside the tooth becomes discolored. It appears much deeper in the tooth by incorporating dark pigmented molecules into the crystal structure of the tooth. This could be due to a number of internal problems, one of which is the effect of tetracycline antibiotics as a treatment in childhood, when the tooth is forming, and also excessive fluoride consumption during the formation of the enamel.

An antiseptic called chlorhexidine, used in prescription-strength mouthwash to treat gingivitis, can cause discolorations. The drug minocylcone, a derivative of tetracycline, used to control acne, can stain teeth. In fact, there are a lot of relatively common drugs such as antihistamines and blood pressure medications, which can sometimes yellow teeth. An injured tooth can cause intrinsic staining because excess blood flows to the tooth (a condition called hyperaemia) to deliver healing and immune cells, the iron pigments in the blood, which are a reddish brown, saturate the dentine which causes the tooth to darken. Intrinsic staining may be stubborn to remove and would potentially require a cosmetic treatment.

There are also two other factors that can contribute to yellow teeth besides the extrinsic and intrinsic stains and these are ageing and genetics, lets take a closer look.


Tooth enamel is a naturally white coating which when at its thickest, it produces that  gleaming white smile, but it gets worn down and translucent over time and the yellow layer of dentine underneath starts to show through, that’s why older people tend to have yellow teeth because the white enamel protective coating has worn away over their lifetimes. Professional and home bleaching treatments will produce significant whitening effects, though periodic re-treatments are recommended for the best long-term results.


Some people are genetically disposed to discolored teeth, it may be that they are born with teeth that are more yellow than other people’s teeth. The whites of a person’s eyes is generally a good indication of this and also if the enamel on the teeth is thin, in which case the natural yellow of the dentine will show through.  Unfortunately for people with this type of discoloration, any teeth whitening treatments will have little or no noticeable effect. In such instances, a dentist may recommend the use of veneers or composites.

Other Common Causes Of Yellow Teeth

smoking yellow teeth

1. Smoking

Smoking is well known for the extrinsic staining of teeth, along with chewing tobacco. It is one of the top causes of yellow teeth, and stains from smoking can be stubborn. The good news is that smokers can improve their yellow teeth by following a complete oral care regime, using the right teeth whitening product for the stain and most important of all, try to quit smoking.

2. Hygiene

Poor oral hygiene such as inadequate brushing and flossing can cause plaque to accumulate on teeth and turn them yellow or even shades of white, grey, brown or even black and green. This type of stain will not be resolved with teeth whitening products and may need the intervention of a dentist to repair the damage caused by the neglect and tooth decay.

3. Dental Procedures

There are certain types of dental work which uses dental materials, such as silver amalgam restorations, which can produce a greyish-black tint to teeth. Deteriorating dental restorations can also produce an array of different colored stains, even normal white fillings can show some sign of staining over time. Amalgam fillings, can show through the translucence of the tooth structure, giving the tooth a dark hue. Whitening products will not change the color of existing dental work, however, it is possible for your dentist to replace new restorations after a course of teeth whitening procedures, if you feel the staining is causing you concern.

4. Tooth Trauma

Nerve tissue damage can turn a white tooth shades of grey or brown. Events such as an accident or fall, even root canal treatment, can cause trauma to the tooth resulting in staining, though it only forms on the tooth directly affected by the incident. In some cases however, the discoloration can indicate that the nerve inside the tooth has died and will need treatment to avoid the possibility of further pain and tooth problems. In the case of a blackened tooth caused by root canal treatment, the only solution t is to have a crown or veneer applied to it to hide the stain.

5. Diet

Diet plays an important part in the cause of stained teeth, but some food and drink also erodes tooth enamel as well, due to its high acidic content, which makes it easier for chromogens (substances found in organic fluids that forms colored compounds when oxidized) to latch onto the teeth. These types of food are unhealthy anyway and are worth avoiding to save further damage and staining to your teeth.

Although tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, it is not flat and smooth. Tooth enamel contains microscopic pits and ridges that can hold particles of food and drink .Pigments from dark colored drinks such as coffee, tea, and soda can become embedded in those cracks and ridges, if the proper steps are not taken, teeth can become stained and yellow.

Foods and Drinks That Cause Yellow Teeth


It’s no surprise to many of us that dark colored food and beverages cause the worst type of tooth staining. These include drinks such as black tea, cola’s, coffee and red wine. If it stains your clothes and is difficult to wash out, then it will stain your teeth. Dark sauces and foods such as blueberries, pomegranates, and grapes are also culprits.

1. Tea

Regular green tea and Matcha green tea doesn’t stain as badly as black tea, but over time you will still see the effects on your teeth because the tannin in tea stains the dental plaque, but not the tooth itself. If the teeth are not brushed and flossed within 24 hours, the plaque will begin to harden and turn into what is commonly known as tartar, this tartar is porous so it will absorb further stains from other food and drinks consumed with the tea. Black tea is full of tannins and is considered to be one of the most problematic drinks regarding tooth discoloration. Tannins act as an accelerator for other dark colored compounds to attach themselves to the tooth enamel.

2. Red wine

Drinking red wine on a regular basis can cause discolored teeth. It’s well known for staining teeth due to the deep colored polyphenols and tannins it contains. We all know what happens if red wine is spilt on a carpet or upholstery, if it’s not removed immediately, it will leave a stain forever, immediately dowsing the stain in white wine will effectively remove it. This method however, does not work on teeth, drinking white wine after red, won’t have the same effect so you can’t use that as an excuse for more wine!! White wine is also a problem because its tannins and acidic nature primes the tooth enamel for other foods eaten at the same time, to stick to easier.

3. Coffee

Coffee is quite acidic, and all acids tend to wear down the enamel in teeth. This can affect not only the appearance of teeth, but can also cause tooth decay. Rinsing your mouth with your own saliva after drinking coffee, will help to naturally remove the coffee waste. Saliva is like a bloodstream to the mouth, it helps to keep the mouth healthy and free from microbial invasions that cause staining. However, because coffee dehydrates, you cannot produce enough saliva in the mouth to naturally rinse off the coffee waste, so drinking and rinsing with water after having a cup of coffee, will help to keep the mouth from going dry.

4. Cola, Soda and Sports Drinks

Have you ever dropped a dirty coin into a glass of cola and watched the effect? It strips the dirt and grime from the coin and it comes out looking like new, so imagine what it does to your teeth! The phosphoric and citric acids in colas and many other sodas, along with their massive amounts of acidic sugar, all wear down tooth enamel. Having said that, many so called ‘sports’ drinks have an even higher level of destructive acids than Pepsi or Coke, recent research has shown that even lightly colored sodas are acidic enough to damage the enamel of your teeth. It’s worth knowing that carbonated drinks have similar acidity to battery acid!

5. Fruit Juices

Fruit juice may not be as bad as fizzy drinks for staining teeth but commercially manufactured juices are actually more acidic, particularly the dark colored juices like cranberry juice. Freshly made juices aren’t as acidic because they are not processed in the same way as commercial juices but it would still be wise to limit the amount you drink.

6. Sugary Sweets

Brightly colored sweets and chewing gum, as well as hard candies, often contain tooth staining agents. It may look funny when your tongue turns blue, but that shows that there is a good chance that your teeth will be permanently changed by the pigments contained in the sweets. Regularly sucking or chewing this type of sugary treat will not only cause staining but it will also cause damage to the tooth enamel. The longer you suck or chew them, the more damage can be done to your teeth.

7. Curry Sauce

Curry is notorious for making teeth yellow, the color is so intense that you can tell it will stain your teeth just by looking at it.

8. Tomato-based Sauce

Tomatoes are highly acidic and brightly colored so tomato sauce and ketchup can cause staining and erosion of the tooth enamel.

9. Soy Sauce

Dark liquids such as soy sauce, can produce the same effect as dark colored drinks. A general rule to follow is that if a food can stain clothing or carpets, then it can stain teeth too. Soy sauce is also heavy on sodium so use it sparingly.

10. Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar is quite delicious and flavorsome but its richness comes at a cost.  Its dark color makes it a tooth stainer so try using a lighter colored vinegar like rice vinegar as an alternative.

11. Berries

Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries etc. Are all considered good healthy food. Not only are they rich in antioxidants and nutrients, they are rich in color too.  However, the intensely packed molecules in the berries tend to stick to the teeth which causes staining, they are also full of sugar so they can cause the teeth to turn yellow over a period of time.

12. Beetroot

Beetroot is rich in vitamins and minerals, and is considered to be extremely healthy. However, beetroot is highly pigmented, and eating it can leave stains on the teeth. Drinking juices and soups with beetroot as an ingredient is even more dangerous. To avoid stain due to beetroot, rinse your mouth thoroughly after eating them, then wait for about an hour and brush teeth gently.

Sauces can attach to porous dental enamel so it’s a good idea not to let them sit on the teeth for too long. It has been proved that having a starter of salad or steamed vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower can create a protective layer over your tooth enamel to lessen the chance of these sauces staining.

How to Prevent Tooth Discoloration?

Dental enamel actually becomes softer around half an hour after eating the food and drink listed above. Brushing during this time may actually make things worse by wearing away the weakened enamel, though it does harden again within the hour. Don’t be tempted to use a tooth brush during this time, once you’ve finished eating these foods, just follow these 2 simple steps.

  1. After consuming any dark colored, potentially stain causing food or drink, take a sip of water and swirl it around your mouth to rinse away any staining compounds or acids, this will help enormously in the fight against discoloration.
  1. If you don’t have any water to hand, try to collect as much saliva in your mouth as you can and swirl it around and over your teeth. Saliva is your mouth’s natural defense mechanism against staining and enamel erosion.

Some people prefer to chew gum after a meal to remove any food debris, but it has now been proved that sugar free gum contains potentially dangerous aspartame and so is best avoided.

Tooth Discoloration Treatments

Brushing and flossing daily together with regular six monthly dental checks is the best way to keep your teeth in top condition, any underlying problems can then be dealt with before they become a problem. If treatment for staining is required, then there are many treatments on the market.

Extrinsic and intrinsic discoloration caused by diet, can easily be removed by your dentist, by applying a bleaching peroxide gel to the tooth enamel, but common problems such as gum disease or tooth decay, will need to be treated first before considering stain removing procedures.

Take home whitening kits, dispensed by dentists may produce the best results over time, these are usually gel or strips and are more suited to extrinsic tooth-staining. Over the counter whitening kits are a low cost alternative to the dispensed kits, and are easy to use without the supervision of a dentist. An emerging tooth whitening trend is the availability of whitening treatments or kits in retail venues such as mall kiosks, salons and spas.

If teeth are severely stained either by medications, dental treatments or excessive fluoride consumption, then a suitable veneer or tooth covering may be recommended by your dentist.

If you want FAST results whitening your teeth we recommend Smartsmile Professional Teeth Whitening Kit

… And Finally

Whether you have inherited tooth discoloration, or if age has taken its toll on your teeth, or simple lifestyle choices have helped to turn them yellow, you can still do something positive to get your smile back.

Sometimes just being aware of the problem can help you to make better lifestyle choices which will have a positive effect on your teeth.

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