In today’s society, it’s a given: white teeth are associated with confidence. Surveys consistently show that they make you appear more attractive to others. While having a dazzling smile is desirable, is it really that important? And does it mean that your teeth are healthier?
The cosmetic appearance of teeth does not necessarily reflect what is going on in the mouth. White teeth may not have any outward signs of tooth decay, but that doesn’t mean the mouth is necessarily healthy. Just ask any periodontal specialists about the health problems caused by gum disease. Left untreated, periodontal disease can cause an infection of the teeth’s supportive tissues that can lead to tooth loss.
Everyone wants that classic, bright Hollywood smile. The color of their teeth is the most common response to what people would most like to change about their smile. A smile is one of the first things we notice about other people. It creates a lasting first impression—and white, attractive teeth tend to generate a more favorable impression than stained, yellow teeth.
Evidence that individuals with whiter teeth are more successful in their professional and personal lives is anecdotal. However, there is likely some truth that a whiter smile can boost confidence, which is attractive to other people. So, to a certain extent, white teeth are important when it comes to building your confidence but not when it comes to having a healthy smile.
Most people do not have a naturally bright white smile. In fact, the majority of smiles out there are off-white or yellowish-white. So, why do we associate smiles with an unblemished shade of white? It’s simple: veneers. Celebrities who have normal smiles (a little off-white or slightly misaligned) get porcelain veneers that create perfectly white and symmetrical smiles. There’s nothing wrong with getting veneers and, if you are seriously dissatisfied with the appearance of your smile, we encourage getting them. However, everyone should understand that Hollywood creates a fake image of what a smile looks like naturally.
Naturally yellow teeth can be perfectly healthy. However, there is a difference between a tooth’s natural color and a tooth that is stained. Staining can come from a variety of places — some of which may be cosmetic and others that may impact your health.
There is nothing we can do about the genetic cards we are dealt with. Yellow-tinged teeth may be handed down to you through your genes. Just as some people inherit brown eyes, some people inherit teeth with enamel that is more porous. Porous enamel is just naturally more susceptible to yellowing.
A lack of oral hygiene is one of the most common causes of yellow teeth. Plaque build-up hardens into tartar — the hard, yellow deposits that accumulate on the teeth. When you visit the dentist, the hygienist removes that built-up tartar (hopefully before it’s caused tooth decay).
Food and drinks are recurrent sources of tooth discoloration. There are two issues to be aware of here. Firstly, some food and beverages are highly pigmented and can stain teeth. This includes tea, coffee, red wine, curries, and soy sauce. The general rule of thumb is that if a substance can stain your clothes, it can stain your teeth.
However, the real risk with food and drink is acidic substances. Acid weakens enamel which makes it porous and thus more likely to stain. This is why substances like fruit juice, coffee, and red wine (which are all both acidic and pigmented) will cause significant staining.
Tobacco use is one of the biggest culprits for discolored teeth. The substances contained in cigarettes — including nicotine, tar, and tobacco — are all capable of changing the shade of teeth. People who have smoked for a long time tend to have teeth that look dark yellow or, in severe cases, almost brown. If you care about how your smile looks, throw away the cigarettes!
Individuals who are undergoing chemotherapy for head and neck cancers may develop stained or yellow teeth.
Some medications, such as the antibiotic tetracycline, can cause tooth staining in children under 8. Medications for high blood pressure and asthma can also contribute to yellow teeth. Some mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium chloride have been shown to contribute to dental staining as well.
As we get older, our teeth tend to yellow as the enamel on our teeth wears out. This reveals the dentin layer beneath, which creates a yellow tint to the teeth.
Teeth consist of enamel, dentin, and pulp. The outer layer of the tooth is the enamel, which is a naturally white, rock-hard mineral. It’s actually the hardest material in the human body — even harder than bone. Under perfect circumstances, enamel can last a lifetime but, for most people, enamel does become damaged over time. As we get older, sugar and acid wear down dental enamel, making it thinner and exposing the darker, yellow dentin layer underneath.
Although this process is unavoidable, with a good daily cleaning regime and smart food and drink choices, you can keep the enamel looking whiter longer. Flossing in between the teeth will also help to remove tartar build-up that can create yellow lines between the teeth.
Regular visits to the dentist are essential to maintaining oral health. Professional teeth cleaning procedures, such as deep scaling and root planing, can keep the surface of the teeth free from plaque and tartar build-up. This will reduce the amount of tartar build-up and keep your smile both white and healthy.
In our office, we offer two types of in-office whitening. Feel free to learn more about them here.
For a more subtle whitening effect, dentists can provide at-home whitening kits where you apply a whitening gel to the teeth every night until the desired whitening effect is reached. If you’re interested in at-home whitening, give us a call at (919) 460-9665.
If whiter teeth are important to you then there is no reason why you shouldn’t have treatments to whiten your teeth — if a dentist gives the green light. If you are worried about how white you should go, a good indicator is to choose a shade that closely resembles the whites of your eyes.