Good news if you’re not happy with the shade of your teeth! There are steps you can take to lighten up your smile. Dental shade depends not only on hygiene, but on genetics and medical history as well. If you’re not sure how white your teeth should be, ask your dentist during your dental exam and cleaning.
What Colour Should Your Teeth Be?
How white your teeth are depends mostly on the two outermost layers of each tooth. On the surface, there’s the enamel. Underneath is the dentin layer, which makes up most of the volume of the tooth.
The natural colour of your teeth, not accounting for hygiene or diet, depends on how transparent the enamel layer is, and how healthy the dentin layer is underneath. The transparency of your enamel can depend on your genetics. That means, even if your enamel layer is thick enough, it might portray the dentin layer naturally!
The normal healthy colour of the layer underneath the enamel, a softer layer making up most of the tooth’s volume, tends to be yellow. In some cases, this layer may be dark and discoloured, which can be caused by several dental conditions such as a genetic condition called dentinogenesis imperfecta. This discoloration may also be caused by certain medications taken during early tooth development.
In some cases, a discoloured tooth may have become non-vital, rendering the dentin layer to darken and discolour, which will show through the enamel layer to some degree.
What’s the Healthiest Shade of Teeth?
For most people, an off-white to a slightly yellow shade of teeth is considered the best result of regular dental cleanings, good hygiene, and diet. Whiter teeth don’t necessarily mean better oral health. However, if you are trying to undo damage from staining or dental trauma, a dentist can advise on whether to whiten your teeth and how much to whiten them.
Pinpointing the Ideal Dental Shade
As long as your dental health is in order, cosmetic dentistry is something you can consider, but bear in mind, ideal dental shade is subjective; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. Have a dentist help you find a balance between health and cosmetics.
Common Causes of Tooth Discolouration
If your teeth used to be whiter than they are now, and you haven’t had any trauma you can recall, wear and tear might be the cause. Remember, enamel can be worn away, revealing the yellowish dentin layer beneath.
Wear and Tear
Wear and tear on your teeth can be expected as time goes by. But aside from enamel wear, there are other processes called extrinsic and intrinsic staining that can discolour your teeth.
Extrinsic stains involve pigmentation from food affecting the surface of your enamel layer. Intrinsic stains ultimately affect the dentin layer. That might mean pigments working past the enamel layer or Intrinsic stains stemming from issues with the tooth’s roots.
Causes of Staining
Some foods contain pigments that can work past the enamel layer. Foods containing such extrinsic or intrinsic staining pigments include red wine, coffee, tea, cola, red fruits, soy sauce, and berries.
Smoking and chewing tobacco can cause extrinsic and ultimately intrinsic stains in teeth as well, working past the enamel to stain the teeth brown or black.
High fluoride content in your local water supply can cause intrinsic yellow staining in children. This may happen in un-regulated water supplies such as farm well water. Fluoride amounts at recommended levels in the water supply will not cause these issues, and will in fact help strengthen the teeth and reduce the chance of getting tooth decay.
Tooth Decay & Trauma
Cavities discolour the dentin layer through decay. If you experienced a dental injury, you might have injured the root, which provides nutrients to the dentin layer, meaning an affected tooth’s dentin layer might have died and taken on a grey or black colour.
If your mother took certain antibiotics when you were in-utero, you might have picked up an intrinsic discolouration as you grew.
Our teeth inevitably darken with age, from inside out and outside in. How much they darken depends on all the other factors we’ve discussed. This is a normal transition even in a healthy dentition, but the degree of darkening with age can vary from person to person.
Home Whitening Agents
Toothpastes, gels, chewing gums that come over the counter typically work as an extrinsic stain remover, meaning they can tackle surface stains caused by your diet and oral hygiene habits.
Some whitening toothpastes and chewing gums contain abrasive particles, so they work by wearing out your enamel along with the surface stain. If you rub away the surface of your tooth, you’re trading extrinsic staining for intrinsic staining. Don’t throw out the good with the bad!
Professional Teeth Whitening for a Brighter Smile
Whitening through professional cosmetic dentistry is your best bet. Professional services, including bleaching, can tackle both extrinsic and intrinsic staining while preserving the health of your enamel and dentin layers.
Bonds & Veneers
Your dentist might make a call to put a composite bond over a discoloured tooth that’s also been chipped and cracked, and the shade can be chosen to lighten that area slightly.
Veneers are a thin-shelled ceramic or composite covering that covers the outer surface of the tooth. This way, the shade can be chosen with a brighter smile in mind.
Vital Bleaching and Non-vital Bleaching
Vital bleaching is the application of an approved bleaching agent to living teeth, so intrinsic and surface stains that aren’t from decay or injury can be lightened with this method.
Non-vital bleaching lightens dentin affected by intrinsic staining due to ageing, trauma, or decay from the inside out.
Teeth Whitening & Health
Have your teeth declared healthy by your dentist before you consider teeth whitening. Once this is done, your dental professional can discuss all the different types of teeth whitening procedures and which one would be best for you. Your dental team can help achieve that beautiful bright smile you’re looking for!