Which is rather unfair, considering that the modern diet leaves our teeth anything but!
Tooth discoloration occurs when certain foods or drinks stain the surface of the tooth, or when there are changes inside the tooth.
There are three main types of tooth discoloration:
Extrinsic: When the enamel (outer layer) of the tooth is stained by what you’re eating or drinking. The biggest culprits are coffee, red wine, fizzy drinks or even pasta sauce. Smoking is another major cause of staining.
Age: A combination of all of the above.
Now, we know that we can reduce the damage to our teeth by limiting ‘bad’ foods such as sugar, coffee, soda, and other junk. But it’s not always possible to cut these tooth-staining treats out entirely.
And besides, we need only use whitening toothpaste to make our teeth bright again, right?
Dental whitening is a huge industry in the U.S. If you have the money, you can make your teeth whiter and brighter with expensive laser treatments or bleaching.
But not all of us can afford those pricey luxuries. That’s why we turn to whitening toothpaste.
Whitening toothpaste is readily available in supermarkets and pharmacies. No doubt you will have heard that these products can make your teeth “up to seven shades whiter!”
But do they really?
You see, there’s quite a difference between “teeth whitening” and “teeth bleaching”.
Whitening simply means that your teeth are lightened back to their natural shade.
Bleaching, on the other hands, involves whitening your teeth BEYOND their natural shade.
Whitening toothpastes contain gentle materials to scrubbing away stains on the surface layer on your teeth. This is called the pellicle film (the layer on top).
Because they’re not bleaching your teeth, they don’t contain peroxides. Instead, they use special medical abrasives such as silica and baking soda to polish the teeth. Some may also use chemicals that can help to dissolve or break down stains.
Essentially, they can’t actually change the natural color of your pearly whites. Tooth whitening tubes of toothpaste can’t remove anything that’s deeper than enamel.
No matter how fancy it is, a whitening toothpaste will only restore your teeth back to their original color.
You see, if you regularly imbibe black coffee, red wine or cigarettes - and you don’t brush as often as you should - the stains on the surface layer of your teeth can starts to seep into your enamel. Enamel is porous, by the way.
That’s when a whitening toothpaste isn’t going to do much good. It may lift some surface stains, but it won’t be able to reach into the tooth itself.
That might not sound too problematic. But then there’s another issue: whitening kinds of toothpaste may actually make your teeth DARKER.
That’s right - the very ingredients that help whitening toothpastes to “scrub out” stains can also make your teeth look, well, not white.
This is all largely to do with the frequency of your brushing. If you use your whitening toothpaste too often, the abrasive materials do much more than just scrub out those stains: they can actually scrub away the enamel, too!
And when your tooth enamel wears down, the inner tooth (called the dentin) becomes more visible through the outer later. The dentin is darker in color, which means that the less enamel you’re left with, the darker your teeth will look.
Basically: too much whitening can have the opposite effect!
There’s an easy way to avoid, this of course. Follow the instructions on the toothpaste label. Don’t use it for longer than recommended.
Choose a brand that’s approved by a reputable dental organization — such as the American Dental Association. This will indicate that the product is safe and effective at removing surface stains.
Most importantly - talk to your dentist. He or she will be able to assess whether your teeth can handle the abrasive treatment of whitening toothpaste, and how long you should use it for.
They may also be able to recommend other forms of whitening treatment, such as bleaching, strips or gels. Some dentist-prescribed options may contain the peroxide concentrations required to reach the deep stains within your teeth.
And while you’re at it, try to limit the foods and drinks that are causing further damage to your smile! Anything that’s too sugary or acidic is bad news for the enamel on your teeth.
Here are the worst offenders:
- Balsamic vinegar and soy sauce
- Tomato sauce
- Turmeric-based curry
- Coffee or tea
- Red Wine