How Can I Prevent My Teeth From Yellowing?

What doesn't get talked about enough is how to prevent needing teeth whitening in the first place. By preventing your teeth from aging prematurely, you can keep them naturally white for a lifetime.

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

Teeth Yellowing Question: What are some things I can do to prevent needing to whiten my teeth? Answer: You might already know that you can whiten your teeth, but what about preventing them from ever needing whitening in the first place?

By preventing your teeth from aging prematurely, you can keep them naturally white for a lifetime.

Here, I’ll talk about why teeth yellow (and no, it’s not just staining) and the steps you can take to prevent them from permanently yellowing.

What Causes Teeth to Yellow?

When you hear that wine, coffee, and tobacco stain teeth — that’s referring to the white, external part of the tooth — the part of the tooth that is NOT alive.

This non-living part of the tooth (the enamel) is easy to whiten with whitening treatments that lighten the outer part of the tooth.

What’s much more difficult — if not impossible — is whitening the inner part of the tooth.

Inside your teeth is living tissue called dentin. Since that tissue is alive, it ages, just like skin wrinkles and just like all other living tissues age.

When dentin ages, it yellows.

Abuse, like not wearing sunblock if we use the skin analogy, will speed up that aging process.

The outer part of the tooth (enamel) is like a clear prism or window, so whatever color the inside tissue of the tooth is gets reflected through to the outside, changing the color of your teeth.

This internal, living tissue of the tooth is very hard to whiten — sometimes impossible. No procedure exists today to give a tooth a “facelift,” so this aging is irreversible.

Since teeth are living, they are going to age just like any other tissue in the body, but there are things you can do to slow down that aging process and prevent your teeth from yellowing.

How Do Teeth Age Prematurely?

A lot of people think that their teeth yellow as they age because, the longer we live, the more exposure we get to staining foods like berries, wine, coffee, and tea — but that’s a myth.

yellow dentin from grinding
These teeth are yellow not from staining, but from premature aging, caused by grinding. See how the teeth are worn flat from years of grinding?

It’s actually the dentin — the inner, living tissue of the tooth — that is aging and yellowing, and being reflected through enamel.

You know that not wearing sun protection prematurely ages skin, but what prematurely ages teeth?

Grinding: As a tooth naturally ages, the inside living tissue shrinks. If you grind your teeth or clench, you’re putting your teeth under duress with strong vertical forces. A nighttime grinder can put as much as 250 pounds of force per square inch on teeth — enough to crack a walnut! These strong forces speed up this shrinkage and aging, eventually killing the tooth. A prematurely aging tooth is a yellow tooth.

Falling: Have you ever seen someone with just one yellow tooth? Very often, a tooth that gets knocked hard during childhood ends up yellowing much faster than the other teeth, which stay white. That’s because the tooth that got hit is dying faster than the others. Young teeth are white teeth.

Poor Diet: If you’re malnourished and in poor health, or even taking certain medications, your teeth will turn yellower because you’re speeding up the aging process of all the living tissue in your body — including dentin.

How to Slow Down The Aging Process (and Yellowing) of Your Teeth

  1. Treat bruxism. If you’re grinding and clenching your teeth, they are prematurely aging, shrinking, and yellowing from all that brute force. Don’t underestimate the damaging effects of grinding on your teeth!
  2. Protect your teeth from trauma. Protect them from falls by wearing a mouthguard during physical activity. Don’t hold up a glass near your mouth when at a cocktail party — you’d be amazed at how often people get bumped and knock their teeth!
  3. Nourish your whole body. Good diet, restorative sleep, and managing stress will slow down the aging process of all the living tissues in your body, including dentin.

Too many people, dentists included, are overly concerned with teeth stains from berries, tea, tobacco, soy sauce, and spicy foods.

But when it comes to keeping teeth white, the most important thing you can do is to preserve the internal health of the tooth and thereby slow down the aging (and yellowing) process.

It is the intrinsic color of the dentin, the living tissue of your teeth, that ages over time that is irreversible and which is what you want to prevent.

So, enjoy your green tea, wine, and blueberries! This type of staining is much more easily remedied.

Slow that down the aging process of your teeth and you’ll prevent them from yellowing prematurely.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Learn More: Teeth Whitening: What to Know Before You Go