• Should Teeth Be White?

    Should teeth be white?

    There is no correct shade of white for teeth; tooth enamel is made up of a mix of yellow, red and grey colours. That means tooth colour varies within your mouth and from person to person.

    Part of the natural aging process is for teeth to yellow and darken, and if you decide to lighten them, you may need touch up treatments from time to time.

    Celebrities have teeth which are unrealistically white as part of their image, and often this is because they have had porcelain veneers or crowns; in photos, their teeth may even be digitally whitened.

    Achieving these extreme shades of white by bleaching may be impossible. It will certainly involve excessive use of a product, well outside the manufacturers recommendations. The rule of thumb, as you age, is that your teeth never be whiter than your eyes.

    What are the likely causes of tooth discolouration?

    Extrinsic stains, what we know as surface stains are superficial stains on the surface of the tooth.

    Common surface stains are dental plaque and calculus, tars (in tobacco), tannins (in tea or coffee), coloured foods such as soy sauce, soft drinks, and even the ingredients in some mouth rinses; mouth rinses are not supposed to be used more often than is recommended.

    Internal stains (often called intrinsic stains) are colours and pigments that have been incorporated into the internal structure of the tooth. This colour incorporation can occur as the tooth is developing, or after, when the teeth are fully formed and in the mouth.

    There are some fifty conditions that can cause developmental colour incorporation in childhood which include illness and fevers; antibiotics, such as Tetracycline; childhood medical conditions that affect blood and/or liver; excessively high fluoride levels from swallowing toothpaste (which can lead to white marks forming on the teeth).

    When the teeth are already in place in the mouth, the most common causes of discolouration are the yellowing of aging, a grey tinge caused by corrosion from amalgam restorations (fillings), tooth decay, and damage to the tooth from an injury, or root canal work, or the normal decay process.

    Why is it important to know the likely causes of tooth discolouration?

    Your dentist is better able to select the most appropriate treatment options for your teeth discolouration, if the cause is known.

    Not all over-the-counter teeth-whitening products are effective against all types of discolouration, and your dentist can advise you if one of a variety of professional lightening or whitening treatments can manage the problem; or if veneers or crowns or other more extensive cosmetic procedures are needed.

    There are some tooth shade changes, for example excessive white patches from fluoride intake, that can be treated using methods other than whitening to return tooth enamel to its normal colour.

    Your dentist can also give you advice on the improvement you can expect and the duration of the treatment; a dental shade guide will be used to document the original tooth shade before starting a whitening treatment, and you will be able to see before and after results.

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