First, some info on how teeth can get yellow: Enamel is the outer layer of your teeth and is generally white to whitish-blue-grey, as well as somewhat translucent, according to dentist Harold Katz, DDS, founder of The California Breath Clinics. The layer just beneath, called dentin, becomes visible as the enamel layer becomes thinner. The colour of dentin? You guessed it: yellow.
Fortunately, there are some changes you can make to keep enamel stronger and prevent that dentin from peeking through—as well as reduce the food stains that can make teeth appear lacklustre as well. Here are some common habits to switch up:
You’re overusing mouthwash or choosing one that’s too acidic.
One of the toughest environments for your teeth is a dry mouth, Katz says. That’s because saliva has a combination of minerals, enzymes, and oxygen compounds that keep the pH balance in your mouth neutral—reducing the acid that can wear away enamel. Saliva also bathes the teeth regularly to knock out bacteria and to prevent stains from adhering to enamel.
You’re loading up on acidic fruits and vegetables.
Just as more acidic mouthwash can thin out tooth enamel, so too can acids in the diet, says Katz. These include citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, pineapples, vinegar, carbonated beverages, some sports drinks, and certain salad dressings that are vinegar-based.
That doesn’t mean you need to cut all of these out of your life, but it’s a good idea to sip some water after eating or drinking them, advises Katz. He suggests consuming more water to prevent staining as well, especially from choices like blueberries, dark tea, and red wine.
You’re a smoker.
The chemicals in cigarettes and pipe tobacco have a staining effect on teeth because they cling to enamel, says Friedman, and the longer you smoke, the more visible this becomes.
Smoking has also been associated with a bevvy of other oral health issues like gum disease, tooth decay, and dry mouth—so consider whiter and stronger teeth just one more reason to consider quitting.
You’re brushing a little too enthusiastically.
While it’s great to have a regular brushing routine, more pressure and speed doesn’t mean a healthier mouth—in fact, it could have the opposite effect, notes Mazen Natour, DMD, a Manhattan-based prosthodontist. This can be especially true if your toothpaste contains abrasive agents, such as choices that aren’t approved by the American Dental Association, he adds.
If your teeth are already yellowing, check with your dentist for professional whitening options as well as advice about changing your habits, he suggests. There are several choices for getting your pearly whites back to a selfie-ready smile.