What Causes Teeth Discoloration?

Teeth whitening has become a common method of fixing the stains and discoloration of teeth. It has grown in popularity over the years with the ability to perform teeth whitening treatments in our own home. It’s an appealing thought that the yellowish tint of your teeth can be fixed quickly and at little cost to you!

But what causes tooth discoloration in the first place?

Before you begin a whitening treatment, it’s important to know what can affect the shade of your teeth and how you can help prevent discoloration.

It’s in Your Genes

Did you know that tooth discoloration can be genetic. Yes, it’s true. Our teeth all have a beginning natural shade. For some lucky few, this shade is white. But for others this shade may be more of an off-white or even yellowish color.

So why do some people have a whiter natural shade than others?

It all has to do with the strength and thickness of the enamel layer of your teeth. Enamel acts as a shell for your teeth to protect against extreme temperatures, chewing, biting and other common wear and tear.

Although enamel is very strong, it can wear down or crack over time. When it does, the second layer, or the dentin layer, is exposed. Dentin is naturally yellow so as enamel wears away or becomes thinner, the yellow of the dentin can begin to show through.

So it stands to reason that if you have naturally thinner enamel… you will have more naturally yellow teeth. Furthermore, as you age or if you experience a major injury, the dentin can darken in color.

Can I Whiten Dentin?

Unfortunately the dentin layer cannot be whitened. All whitening methods are meant to treat the outermost layer of your teeth – the enamel.

If exposed dentin is the root cause of your tooth discoloration, there are still ways for you to get that pearly white smile!

Although enamel cannot be restored, it can be strengthened through certain toothpastes, softer brushing and with certain foods. (We will discuss these in more detail below!)

Veneers are also a great alternative to get whiter teeth. Talk with your dentist about your options!

Other Reasons for Discoloration

Okay, so it’s one thing if teeth discoloration just happens to be in your genes. But what if you have great, strong enamel and are still experiencing yellowed, discolored teeth?

There are a number of external factors that can affect the overall color and whiteness of your teeth. Such as…

Food and Drink

Eating and drinking an excess of strain-causing foods and beverages can darken your teeth over time. Some of the biggest teeth staining culprits include:

Coffee – Ah, yes. The beverage that that keeps us going in the morning. Because coffee is dark in color, it can rest in the cracks and ridges of your teeth and make them appear discolored and yellowed over time. 

Tea – Surprisingly enough, tea can actually cause more stains than coffee! Furthermore, herbal and white teas can wear away the outer covering of your teeth, making your enamel more prone to stains.

Fruits – Yes, as good for your health as they are, fruits (especially ones with darker juices) can also stain teeth. (Tip: After eating stain-causing fruits, drink a glass of water to wash away any excess juice or substances!)

Dark Sauces – Tomato, soy and other dark sauces can affect the brightness of your teeth overtime. One alternative is to try replacing a tomato-based pasta sauce for an Alfredo every now and then.

Carbonated Beverages – Sodas and other carbonated drinks (especially darker sodas) are acidic and can wear down enamel, exposing the dentin, yellow layer beneath.


Smoking can play a major role in the color of your teeth. Consistent smoking can cause your teeth to turn yellow over time, or worse. Some smokers claim that their teeth are almost brown after years of smoking.. This is because of the nicotine and tar, which can easily make their way into the pores of the teeth to cause stains and discoloration.

Not only that, but smoking can also lead to gum disease. This occurs when tobacco affects the attachment of bone and soft tissue to your teeth, making them more susceptible to disease and other oral health problems.

If you are a smoker you might want to consider using a special toothpaste that is designed for smokers.

Dental Hygiene

Yes, we are even going to talk about the most obvious reason your teeth are discolored – poor dental hygiene. 

Failure to properly brush, wash and floss your teeth can lead to poor color and strength. Drinking tea and eating spaghetti becomes even more detrimental when you don’t follow with brushing.

So make more of an effort to floss at least once and day and to brush at least twice a day.

Regular dental visits also fall under dental hygiene because having semi-annual cleanings and exams are important for overall oral health.

Professional teeth cleanings can help remove excess plaque and food that you may not have noticed. Your dentist will also polish your teeth, promoting a whiter smile!

Health Issues

On a more serious note, teeth discoloration may be the cause of underlying health issues. Several diseases that affect enamel (the hard surface of the teeth) and dentin (the underlying material under enamel) can lead to tooth discoloration.

If you notice your teeth worsening rapidly or none of the above apply to you, seek professional dental advice immediately.

How to Prevent Teeth Discoloration

So now that we know what causes teeth discoloration, the question becomes: How do we prevent it?

You’ll be happy to know that most of the above teeth discoloration problems can be solved and prevented by implementing the following:

Drink more water. Water really is vital in all health aspects, isn’t it? Drinking more water will promote saliva production – which can help remove excess food from your teeth, prevent disease and improve your overall health.

Drinking water after meals (as I mentioned above) can also help to wash away any residual foods or juices.

Use sensitive toothpaste. Using a sensitive toothpaste such as Sensodyne can help strengthen your enamel. Remember – the stronger and thicker the enamel, the less your yellow dentin layer will show through!

Use a soft bristled brush. Some brushes can be too abrasive on sensitive teeth and can actually end up damaging the outer layer. Replace your brush with one that has soft bristles for a gentler wash.

Limit staining substances. Cutting back on smoking, soda, coffee and other stain-causing substances can help prevent discoloration.

Teeth whitening. And, of course, teeth whitening is a great way to remove any stains and fix discoloration. Teeth whitening can be done at home with strips or trays or in-office by your dentist.