Yellow Teeth and Other Tooth Discoloration Causes and Treatment

erica medical reviewer
Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
Michael Bayba
Written by
Michael Bayba
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Evidence Based
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6 sources cited
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Tooth Discoloration

Unfortunately, tooth discoloration is a natural part of life. Tooth discoloration typically happens gradually, so you might not even notice it at first. Then one day, you look in the mirror and realize your teeth appear darker and more dull.

There are three main types of tooth discoloration:

  • Extrinsic staining is caused by substances that come in contact with your teeth. These are shallow stains, and are relatively easy to remove.
  • Intrinsic staining is due to something inside your teeth or body. These deep stains are much more difficult to remove.
  • Worn enamel is typically caused by age. As your enamel wears away, it exposes the second layer of your teeth. This is your dentin, which is yellowish in color. You cannot change the color of your dentin.

Learn more about the best teeth whitening methods.


This article will explain the possible causes of yellow teeth, tips for preventing tooth discoloration, and the best ways to whiten discolored teeth.

10 Causes of Yellow Teeth

There are several reasons your teeth become discolored, including:

1. Certain Foods and Beverages

Several of your favorite foods that are high in tannins, pigmentation, or acids can change the color of your teeth. Coffee, tea, red wine, soda, tomato sauces, curries, berries, apples, potatoes, and beets are just some of these foods and drinks that can stain teeth.

2. Sugar and Simple Carbohydrates in Your Diet

Sugary and high-carb foods can get into your enamel and cause teeth staining. Try to avoid these foods or brush your teeth immediately after consuming them. Sugary foods can also contribute to tooth decay, which gives the tooth a brown or yellow color.

3. Tobacco Use

Smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco are common causes of extrinsic discoloration. These stains are some of the toughest to remove, but they can be managed. 

4. Age

Over time, the outer enamel of your teeth will wear away. This exposes the yellow layer of dentin in your tooth. Stains also build up on your teeth due to the other extrinsic factors on this list.

5. Poor Oral Hygiene

Poor oral hygiene is a top cause of yellowing teeth, tooth decay, and plaque buildup. Plaque can cause your teeth to appear darker and not smooth. Brushing twice a day, flossing, and using mouthwash can help prevent some (but not all) teeth stains and keep your adult teeth healthy.

6. Illnesses

Certain diseases and infections can affect the enamel or dentin of your teeth. Chronic dry mouth is also a common cause of yellow teeth. Treatments for illnesses, such as radiation and chemotherapy, are also known to discolor your teeth. 

7. Certain Medications or Mouthwashes

Several medications are known to discolor teeth. Antibiotics such as doxycycline and tetracycline discolor children’s teeth. Antihistamines like Benadryl, drugs for high blood pressure, and antipsychotic medications can also cause discoloration. Mouth rinses that contain chlorhexidine or cetylpyridinium chloride are also known to cause yellow or brown teeth.

8. Mouth Trauma

Mouth injuries can cause serious damage. If your enamel or dentin is disturbed, it can cause tooth discoloration. If your mouth becomes infected, that infection can also cause staining. 

9. Over Fluoridation

If the fluoride levels in your water is too high, or if you overuse fluoride-containing treatments, your teeth may become stained or mottled looking.

10. Dental Materials

Certain materials used in dental treatments can turn your teeth gray or black. Materials containing silver sulfide are especially prone to this.

How to Prevent Tooth Discoloration

Age-related yellowing is very difficult to prevent. However, there are certain steps you can take to slow down and prevent tooth discoloration. 

Here are six tips to help keep your teeth healthy and your smile pearly white: 

1. A Good Oral Hygiene Routine

Establishing a daily routine is the best way to take care of your teeth. Be sure to:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day (once before breakfast and once before bed)
  • Floss at least once a day
  • Use an antibacterial mouthwash once a day

These simple steps are the best preventative steps you can take for yourself to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

2. Quit Smoking (Or at least Cut Back)

Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your mouth and overall health. Cutting this habit out will greatly improve your quality of life, and help keep a bright smile on your face. 

3. A Healthy Diet

Cutting out foods and drinks that are high in sugar, carbs, acid, tannins, and carbonation can help keep your teeth whiter longer. It’s best to cut out or reduce coffee, tea, and red wine consumption. 

4. Drink With a Straw

This is a simple trick to reduce the amount of sugary or dark liquids that come in contact with the visible surfaces of your front teeth. Be sure to use reusable straws to help protect the environment.

5. Avoid Dry Mouth

Chronic dry mouth can cause yellow teeth. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and tobacco, which can dehydrate your mouth. If your dry mouth is persistent, schedule an appointment with your dentist for professional medical advice. 

6. Regular Dentist Appointments

Everyone should see their dentist twice a year. Regular dental cleanings help prevent tooth stains and protect your tooth coloration. They will also give you a check-up to test for any underlying dental conditions.

Best Ways to Whiten Yellow Teeth

If your teeth have already started to discolor, you’re not alone. Many people are unhappy with the color of their teeth. Fortunately, most intrinsic and extrinsic staining can be treated. 

Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide are the primary components of most whitening treatments. They are natural and safe teeth bleaching agents that can remove both intrinsic and extrinsic stains. The two substances produce virtually identical results.1, 2, 3 

There are several teeth whitening options to help get rid of yellow teeth stains:

1. At-Home LED Kits

At-home teeth whitening has never been more popular. It is an effective and affordable alternative to costly professional bleaching treatments. And LED whitening kits are one of the top options.

These kits come with a tray that has an LED light and a whitening gel or serum. You apply the gel to your teeth and place the LED light tray over them. Then apply the light for the directed amount of time. 


LED whitening kits, teeth whitening strips, whitening toothpastes, mouthwashes & professional treatment:

Find out which teeth whitening methods are the safest and most effective.


At-home LED whitening kits are safe and effective as long as they are used as directed. The most common side effect is tooth sensitivity. They can also cause gum irritation if the gel comes in contact with your gum line. Do not use them for longer times or more frequently than directed.

NewMouth recommends LED kits as the best at-home teeth whitening treatment. This is due to their effectiveness, affordability, ease of use, and minimal side effects. Read our review of the top teeth whitening products available for more information.

2. Teeth Whitening Strips

Whitening strips are another effective way to whiten teeth. They are made of thin, flexible plastic material and a whitening gel containing hydrogen or carbamide peroxide. 

Teeth whitening strips are cheaper than LED kits. They have the potential to produce the same results as LED kits. However, they can cause tooth sensitivity and can leave white stains if they are not applied properly. We recommend LED kits over whitening strips because they are easier to use, which results in more even whitening.

3. In-Office Professional Whitening Treatment

In-office professional tooth whitening treatment produces the same effect as LED kits and whitening strips in one to two sessions. They use whitening serums composed of hydrogen or carbamide peroxide but at higher concentrations. 

This treatment will get you white teeth faster. Plus, because a dentist applies the serum for you, it is generally safer. However, it is much more expensive than whitening kits and strips. Each whitening session will cost you between $400 and $1,500.

4. Whitening Toothpastes and Mouth Rinses

Many DIY and over-the-counter whitening treatments claim to whiten your teeth. However, hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide are the safest and most effective science-backed tooth bleaching ingredients.4

Whitening toothpaste or mouth rinse is best used to maintain your tooth color after using other whitening methods.

5. Ineffective Methods

There are many DIY and over-the-counter whitening treatments that claim to whiten your teeth. However, hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide are the safest and most effective science backed tooth bleaching ingredients.1, 2, 3, 4

Many whitening methods are popular but have no scientific evidence to support their effectiveness. We recommend avoiding all of these treatments until they have been proven or disproven by science. Some of these could even potentially harm your teeth or gums.

The following methods are not clinically proven to be effective:

  • Charcoal toothpaste, charcoal powder, or any other tooth powder
  • Vinegar or acidic fruit-based DIY whitening
  • Fruit peels
  • Coconut oil pulling

Summary

  • Tooth stains can be extrinsic, intrinsic, or due to your enamel layer wearing down (age-related)
  • There are many ways to prevent teeth staining such as changing your diet, quitting smoking, and maintaining proper oral health care
  • Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide are natural and safe bleaching agents that give you a brighter smile
  • At-home whitening is an effective and affordable option for getting rid of yellow teeth
  • DIY whitening methods have not been proven by science and should be avoided
  • LED whitening kits are the easiest way to whiten your teeth at home

Resources

(1) Zekonis, Ruta, et al. “Clinical Evaluation of in-Office and at-Home Bleaching Treatments.” Operative Dentistry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2003.

(2) Basting, RT, et al. “Clinical Comparative Study of the Effectiveness of and Tooth Sensitivity to 10% and 20% Carbamide Peroxide Home-Use and 35% and 38% Hydrogen Peroxide In-Office Bleaching Materials Containing Desensitizing Agents.” Operative Dentistry, Allen Press, 1 Sept. 2012.

(3) Mokhlis, G R, et al. “A Clinical Evaluation of Carbamide Peroxide and Hydrogen Peroxide Whitening Agents during Daytime Use.” Journal of the American Dental Association, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2000.

(4) Department of Scientific Information, Evidence Synthesis & Translation Research, ADA Science & Research Institute, LLC. “WhiteningOral Health Topics, American Dental Association, 30 Oct. 2020. 

(5) Karadas, Muhammet, and Omer Hatipoglu. “Efficacy of Mouthwashes Containing Hydrogen Peroxide on Tooth Whitening.” The Scientific World Journal, Hindawi, 30 July 2015.

(6) Lochary, Margaret, et al. “DOXYCYCLINE AND STAINING OF PERMANENT TEETH” LWW Journals, The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, May 1998.

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