How to Prevent Teeth from Yellowing: At-Home Whitening Tips

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If you are looking to brighten your smile, there are great products available through your dentist that provide fast, noticeable whitening results. But there are also some easy things you can do at home. Instead of just talking about whitening, we’ll discuss staining: how to prevent it, how to counteract it, and how to remove it.

Preventing Stains

Our teeth gradually become more yellow over time. A small part of that yellowing process is a natural effect of aging, but the majority of it results from two causes:

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1. External Stains

The most common cause of yellowing teeth is the buildup of external stains. Over time, as we eat and drink dark-colored foods and beverages, the teeth accumulate those dark pigments. This also occurs with tobacco use, especially smoking. External stains that are not removed on a consistent basis become deeply embedded in the hard tooth structure, which makes them more difficult to remove. 

In order to prevent externals stains from accumulating on the teeth, you must avoid these dark-colored substances. This means limiting your intake of coffee, tea, dark sodas, red wine, and tobacco. If you never eat, drink, smoke or chew anything dark, your teeth will stay relatively white in color.

2. Thinning Enamel

Enamel is the only structure in a tooth that is naturally white in color. Even in its most natural state, it is just an off-white color. The underlying core structure of the tooth is dentin, which is softer and yellower than enamel. As enamel thins, more of the dentin shows through, causing the teeth to appear yellow.

There are several causes of thinning enamel, all of which can be prevented. You simply have to take preventive measures against the cause itself.

  • Acid Erosion — Acidic pH substances are enamel’s kryptonite. They slowly dissolve the enamel, leaving it thinner, weaker and more translucent. To prevent this, avoid acidic drinks like sodas, sparkling water, fruit juices, beer, and wine. In addition, see your medical doctor to treat any problems with acid reflux and fight dry mouth (your saliva is a base and counteracts damage from acids). You can also add remineralizing oral hygiene products, which is a long topic we will have to address in a different article.
  • Attrition from Clenching and/or Grinding — The heavy forces and friction of nighttime clenching and/or grinding lead to a gradual wearing-away of enamel. This is preventable by wearing a protective nightguard to separate and protect the teeth.
  • Abrasion from Harsh Oral Care Products — Some people feel that using hard toothbrushes and extremely abrasive toothpaste will lead to cleaner teeth. Unfortunately, it will also lead to abrasion or mechanical removal of enamel over time. Make sure to always use only soft toothbrushes, and ask your dentist for toothpaste recommendations. People with gum recession, root exposure, and already-thin enamel should stay away from whitening toothpaste, which is abrasive.

Counteracting Stains

You can counteract the process of teeth staining with routine maintenance of your smile. This involves regularly polishing and protecting your enamel. To do this, it takes both professional dental care and home care.

Professional Dental Care to Counteract Staining

In order to maintain healthy, strong, smooth enamel, you must see a dental hygienist for professional teeth cleanings on a consistent basis. Most people need these cleanings twice a year, but some require them more frequently. The cleaning itself removes acid-producing bacteria and superficial stains. It also includes a final polishing, which leaves the enamel smoother and more resistant to new stains.

If you tend to have weak enamel, your professional dental care should include an application of fluoride, which hardens and strengthens enamel, fighting erosion, staining, and cavities.

Home Care to Counteract Staining

At home, you should make sure you are practicing good oral hygiene. To improve your brushing’s ability to counteract stains, use an electric toothbrush and a whitening toothpaste (with your dentist’s approval). These two, used together, produce whiter teeth.

You should also work to counteract staining from any dark substances by rinsing with water afterward. If you drink multiple cups of coffee in the morning, drink a glass of water after each cup to flush away loose stains and neutralize your mouth.

Removing Stains

To remove deep stains that will not polish away, you have to turn to teeth whitening. For the fastest and most noticeable results, you should see your dentist for professional products and procedures. 

If you’d like to whiten them at home, there are many over-the-counter products that do work. Here are two tips for achieving a whitening result with OTC products:

  1. Check the active ingredients. Make sure the product you select contains either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the main ingredient. These are the only chemicals available for true teeth whitening because they penetrate your tooth enamel and break down dark-colored pigments within the teeth.
  2. Consider the application method and choose one that will keep the active ingredient in close contact with your teeth for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t think you can keep it on your teeth for an extended period of time, look for a different method of application. It takes time for whitening to work!

What’s the Takeaway?

It’s simple to prevent stains, but most people don’t consider it worth the trouble of avoiding their favorite substances. You can also counteract the staining and remove it with whitening if the idea of skipping your coffee sounds absurd.

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Updated on: January 8, 2021
Dr. Lara Thurman Coseo
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