If you aren't thrilled with the color of your teeth you aren't alone. But before you drop some hundos 💸 on whitening we recommend diving into why your natural teeth are turning yellow. Depending on why your teeth are yellow will help you pick the right whitening approach.
What causes teeth to become yellow?
Maybe your teeth have always looked yellow to you, or you've noticed they aren't as white as they used to be. Here are some of the top reasons why your teeth might be looking less pearly than you'd prefer:
- Thin enamel. Your enamel is the hard, white, protective coating on the outside of your teeth. Your dentin is the dark yellow filling on the inside of your tooth. If your enamel is thin it becomes more translucent and the yellow dentin starts to show through more. Here are a few reasons why your enamel might be thinning:
- Acidic foods and drinks that sit on your enamel for long periods of time
- Acid reflux from GERD - the juices in your stomach are pretty acidic
- Grinding or clenching your teeth (aka bruxism)
- Staining from foods and drinks. When you eat, tiny food particles get stuck in the microscopic grooves of your teeth. If those foods stain your clothes, they can also stain your teeth. Tomatoes, curry spices, berries, wine, coffee, tea, sodas all have pigments that can stain the surface of your teeth.
- Poor oral hygiene. Each time you brush you scrub away particles that can stain your teeth. Consistently cleaning your teeth with the proper technique keeps those staining particles off your teeth.
- Smoking or tobacco use. Yep, all that nicotine leaves a gnarly stain on your teeth which is difficult for your toothbrush to scrub off.
- Genetics or medications. Some things just run in the family, including the color of your teeth. But there are also medications that can stain your teeth, the most common being tetracycline antibiotics.
Tetracycline and teeth whitening
Tetracycline is an antibiotic that's swallowed and used to treat a range of infections from acne to syphilis. This antibiotic has been available since the 1970s because it just works, but there are some downsides when it comes to oral health. If you took tetracycline before the age of 8, or if your mother took tetracycline while you were in vitro, your teeth might have bluish or grayish stains that looks like "bands" around your teeth.
That's because the tetracycline absorbs easily into tissues that are growing and calcifying like bones, and teeth and discolors them. Tetracycline doesn't have the same effect on adults because once your body stops growing, you are done calcifying your teeth and you aren't susceptible to the same staining.
'Tetracycline-stained' teeth are stubbornly discolored and don't react the same way to whitening as teeth that have not been affected by tetracycline. While regular teeth take 2-6 weeks to achieve whitening, tetracycline-stained teeth can take 8-24 weeks to achieve whiter results.
Carbamide peroxide teeth whitening
For the majority of patients who want to whiten their teeth, our clinicians recommend a gel formulated with carbamide peroxide. "Carbamide peroxide is a super effective whitening agent," shares Wally hygienist Sarah Clark, RDH. "What works great is using custom-formulated carbamide peroxide to use at home with custom-fit whitening trays. It's not just convenient - you can control the shade of white on your own, plus the formulation means less sensitivity which can be a barrier to many patients starting whitening. Also, carbamide peroxide is a more effective option for stubborn stains, like tetracycline."
Why is it convenient to do the whitening at home? Carbamide peroxide releases about 50% of its whitening power in the first two hours, and remains active for up to another six hours. On most teeth carbamide peroxide will get to the target shade with 2-6 weeks of consistent use (if not sooner!).
Vegan teeth whitening with carbamide peroxide?
Carbamide peroxide does include urea, which is contained in, you guessed it, animal urine. But many companies use synthetic rather than animal-based urea. If you are vegan and want to whiten your teeth, chat with your dentist about the best options for you.
Teeth whitening cost? It can get expensive!
Whitening is popular. A study showed that it is the most popular cosmetic procedure at more than 30% of dentist offices. So how much is it? Our team looked into how much it costs to whiten your teeth in a few different cities. Here are the average costs for one session (that's right, just ONE) of whitening:
- New York City: $450
- Chicago: $350
- Dallas: $350
- Los Angeles: $450
- Washington, DC: $450
Why is it so much? Dentists know that whitening is popular so they charge a premium to help make up for lower insurance reimbursement rates for other treatments, like cleanings and exams.
If you find a dentist who offers teeth whitening, we recommend doing some digging to understand if what they are offering is good quality, and if it's a fair price. If your dentist provides the wrong whitening you won't get the results you want. And what's worse is it can leave your teeth feeling sensitive. You can read more on how to evaluate your whitening options here (including a handy cost-comparison guide)
Check out "Teeth bleaching and other ways to whiten your teeth" for everything you need to whiten your teeth safely and effectively.