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The yellowing of teeth is the unpleasant discoloration that can accumulate over time as a result of consuming dark and acidic food or drinks, smoking cigarettes, genetics, poor dental hygiene, some medications, certain diseases or simply getting older.
Teeth are made up of two layers: the outer enamel layer and the inner dentin layer. When teeth are visibly discolored, it’s an indication that the enamel has either become stained or has been worn away to expose the dentin. Regular consumption of dark food or drinks — like berries, tomato sauce, red wine and coffee — is likely to leave the teeth stained over time. The strong colors in such items are derived from chromogens, which are hyper-pigmented molecules with a tendency to stick to teeth's porous enamel. But even food and drinks that aren’t strongly colored can pose a threat to pearly whites if they have a high acidity level. Acidic foods contribute to the erosion of tooth enamel, revealing the inner, discolored dentin. As we get older, the constant exposure of our teeth to both highly pigmented and acidic foods leads to the gradual discoloration as well as the natural wearing away of enamel. For those who smoke, this discoloring is further exacerbated as harmful ingredients like nicotine and tar also leave stains.
Whenever possible, sip darker beverages, like coffee or iced tea, through a straw rather than from the mouth of a cup in order to minimize the direct contact with your teeth. When eating meals that consist of dark foods, try to brush your teeth afterward or munch on crunchy fruits and veggies that act to clean teeth and break down stains, like apples, celery or carrots. And, of course, the avoidance of smoking cigarettes is another key way to keep teeth white.
The active ingredient in most teeth whitening products is either carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. Carbamide peroxide breaks down into both hydrogen peroxide and urea when it is used on the teeth. These ingredients are used in both at-home teeth whitening products as well as those that would be administered at a dentist’s office.
Whitening teeth can help remove significant staining from the enamel. Having your teeth professionally whitened by a dentist is an efficient solution for stained teeth, though it can also be an expensive one. Dentists will typically use fitted trays to administer whitening gel to the teeth and multiple sessions may be needed to see the desired results.
There is an array of over-the-counter whitening products available at a more manageable price, though the effectiveness of these products varies. Options range from the same type of teeth tray and gel products used by the dentist to whitening strips, toothpastes and even lozenges.
Another option is natural remedies that are found to whiten teeth, like scrubbing them with the inside of a banana or orange peel or brushing with a homemade whitening paste of crushed strawberries and baking soda (though this last one should not be used regularly, as it can wear down the enamel).
Regardless of the method you choose, it is important to always see a dentist first to make sure that your teeth and gums are healthy and that the discoloration is not a symptom of underlying health issues.