Stains on Teeth

Getting rid of yellow, stained teeth can help you look better, more attractive, and healthier.  Especially in the U.S., there is less and less tolerance these days for not having nice, white teeth.

You might be surprised to learn that our teeth aren’t actually supposed to be a brilliant white. Well, let me rephrase that: Teeth aren’t supposed to be the color white you see so often in celebrity magazines. Most of our teeth have a natural appearance that is in the white family, sure, but definitely more mocha than latte. Creamy ivory, maybe? That doesn’t mean they are stained. It doesn’t mean that they are unhealthy.

But the fact of life is that people expect white teeth, and having stained or yellow teeth will give a perception that you don’t take as good care of them, or of yourself.

Getting rid of stains on teeth is more of a cosmetic priority than a dental health one.  Unless the enamel is being affected (and it might be), non-whiteness is not a sign of unhealthy teeth—just dirty or stained teeth. But there are things you can do to get rid of and prevent stains on your teeth, so you might as well give it a try. Nothing wrong with a clean, healthy mouth, right? Especially when dating, interviewing for a job, trying to get a sale, or having that important photo taken.

Best Products for Whitening Teeth at Home

Just about every toothpaste available these days has some sort of whitening properties built into it—peroxide, baking soda, etc. They all advertise that they are the proven solution that helps you get rid of stains on teeth. Regular use of these kinds of toothpastes can help prevent stains on teeth from becoming a problem.

There are more potent “home bleaching” products available as well. They come in paste, gel, and strip form. They can be dangerous if not used as directed or too often — these are your teeth we are talking about, after all.  Be careful with what you put on your teeth, and don’t use unproven products just to get a little more white on your smile.  Always keep the teeth you’ve got healthy!

Teeth Whitening Lifestyle Habits

Before we talk about products or solutions, there are a few lifestyle things you can do to help keep your teeth from getting stained.

smoking cough quit yellow teeth

Quit smoking, as it stains your teeth.

So many problems can be solved by quitting smoking, and yellow teeth are on that list. Not smoking is perhaps that best way to remove stains from teeth.

Tobacco smoke contains a dark resin that is referred to as tar. That tar can build up on your teeth over time. If you need another reason to quit to add to your list, there it is. You can put “stains teeth” right next to “shortens my life,” “causes cancer and heart disease,” “kills children,” and “really stinks.” I know from personal experience that kicking the tobacco habit is extremely difficult.  Do whatever it takes—medicine, gum, patches, or anything else until you find a way to be done with tobacco. That goes for you tobacco chewers and spitters as well!

Few habits can improve your overall health, appearance, and longevity like quitting smoking, and perhaps one of the first benefits you will see is a more attractive smile.  I get that kicking the smoking habit is easier said than done.  If you are having a hard time going cold turkey, maybe a little assistance and support will help you put down the cigarettes for good (like the program featured here).

Stop drinking coffee, tea, and soda too.

Is that unreasonable? Probably.  Maybe we have to settle for “stop drinking excessive coffee.”

I know I would have a tough time not drinking high-test coffee and diet cola on a daily basis. They both contain a coloring agent that can stain your teeth. Soda is also high in acid, which can eat away at your enamel and make them even more susceptible to staining. If your drink of choice is a sugary soda, you are bringing yet another problem to the party. Bacteria in your mouth love sugar, especially the ones hiding deep in the recesses and crevices of your teeth. When they eat that sugar they produce an acid that can eat away enamel and cause cavities.

If you’re going to drink this sort of stuff, at the very least brush your teeth regularly.  In fact, brushing right after you drink coffee can do wonders for reducing the stains it will leave.  If you are a 4-cup-a-day type of person, maybe you should be brushing your teeth more than once or twice each day.

Keep red wine from staining teeth.

Red wine is great. It tastes good, has antioxidants, and can help you relax after a long and crazy day. A problem, though, is that red wine can really stain teeth. It is a perfect storm of tooth staining agents:  Red pigment, acid which etches the enamel, and tannins that help the red pigment bind to your teeth.  It is also like it is not even a fair fight.

The good news is that there are some things you can do to get rid of stained teeth caused by wine.

First, drink water as you are drinking wine. The occasional sip of water in between your sips of wine will help wash your teeth, removing the acids from them and giving your teeth a fighting chance against the next sip of wine.

Second, a sneak but effective trip is to brush your teeth before drinking wine.  Brushing will remove tartar from your teeth, and the tarter on your teeth plays a role in catching and holding the wine pigments, much like a rug might catch dirt as it is coming in through the door.  Just be sure to brush several minutes before drinking the wine, so that the toothpaste doesn’t affect the flavor of your $50 bottle of pinot!

brush teeth white yellow stain

Brush your teeth more often.

The American Dental Association recommends that you brush at least two times daily with a good quality toothpaste that contains fluoride. They also recommend that you replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if it is worn or frayed. Brushing your teeth removes food particles after meals and neutralizes agents of tooth decay. It can help remove the colorings and dyes that, if left on your teeth, can cause the staining we are talking about. It also freshens breath, kills bacteria, and is an all-around good idea. You can teach your kids and tell your friends that brushing your teeth, when paired with other good dental hygiene practices (such as flossing), will give you a better life. Heck, you could go all out and get this kit of Smile Dent Pro dental tools sold on Amazon to help keep the ol’ teeth clean. And speaking of dental tools…

Have your dentist remove stains from teeth.

Those of you with a health insurance plan that includes dental checkups should be taking advantage of that opportunity. A dentist or dental assistant will check each tooth with specialized tools, scraping plaque and tartar buildups along the gum line. They will also poke around looking for cavities and soft spots. That part can be a bit uncomfortable, but it is important because catching a cavity early can mean the difference between a filling and a root canal. After scraping and prodding, they will usually polish your teeth with a slightly abrasive paste and finish it up with a fluoride gel treatment to strengthen the enamel. You can have your teeth cleaned whenever you want, however, tooth polishing should be limited to a few times a year.

The problem, of course, is that having your teeth whitened at a dentist will cost you.  For most dental offices, the standard charge is at least $125 and often more, and it is not always covered by insurance because it is not medically necessary.  But a dentist will be able to whiten your teeth using the best safety standards.

Caps, crowns, and dental veneers cover up stained teeth.

For those of you who won’t be satisfied with just any old white, there are dental veneers. They don’t bother with trying to whiten your obviously substandard tooth enamel. This method involves applying a manufactured shell over your existing teeth. This shell is made from either dental porcelain or a hard plastic resin. It is whiter than Sarah Palin and won’t pick up stains. While I think the whole idea is silly for those of you with perfectly healthy, normal teeth, there are people who have very bad teeth and products like caps, crowns, and dental veneers could really help them. However, if you have the money and think it’s important, who am I to judge?

Best Ways to Get Rid of Stains on Teeth Naturally

Use a Home-Based Teeth Whitening Program

There are home-based programs that allow you to get rid of tooth stains gradually and naturally, like this one.

The programs are often a combination of tooth strips or special tooth paste, improved dental habits, and in some cases dietary adjustments.  They allow you to focus on getting rid of yellow teeth or a stained smile from the comfort of your own home, on your own schedule.  Just be sure you use the program as directed, because too much of a good thing can still be a little dangerous.

If you use a program like this, you might need to repeat it periodically or use it continually, because your teeth are always getting stained.  But the same goes for whitening by your dentist — it will only last for so long before you need to go back in and have the treatment done again.

Give the home-based program a try — it works for many people.

food white stained teeth smile

Whiten teeth with food.

Not just any food — but certain foods actually help keep your teeth from staining.

Crunchy raw fruits and veggies like celery, apples, jicama, and carrots help clean your teeth while you are chewing on them. They also stimulate your gums and are part of any good balanced diet. Other foods high in acid can technically help whiten your teeth, but they could also dissolve enamel or stain your teeth worse…creating an eventual problem that will require some replacements.

What is better than being able to get rid of the stains on your teeth by eating food!  Not much sacrifice involved.  Plus, things like fruit and vegetables have so many more health benefits.  Improving your dental health is just one.

Increase your calcium intake.

Our western diet is often high in fats and carbs but lacking in other important nutritional elements. Children and adults need these vitamins and nutrients to live long healthy lives with healthy strong teeth. Please, make sure you are getting enough calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin A, and phosphorous. To help with that, you can get
Nature’s Bounty supplements from Amazon. Check with your doctor first, obviously, and only use this or other supplements as directed.

Homemade remedies to remove stains from teeth.

Beware of home remedies that involve using corrosive or oxidative household chemicals (like hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and salt) for anything other than its recommended use. In small amounts these things are fine, and are often found in toothpaste, but be careful or you won’t have any teeth left to stain.

And remember the old saying, you can get too much of a good thing.  Things like baking soda, which have many benefits in moderation, can be abrasive and overwhelming if used excessively.  Just be careful — you only get one set of teeth.

As a general rule, stick to solutions that are backed by the American Dental Association.  They still give their seal of approval to products that pass muster.

Adult Flouride.

While this won’t help get your teeth whiter, Adult Flouride will prevent cavities from starting or becoming larger. It is applied at your dentist’s office, and while it does cost a little bit more (I pay about $35 for an application every 6 months), it is worth not having to drill to get rid of cavities.

The American Dental Association has been saying for over 70 years that flouride helps prevent tooth decay.  We find that people tend to be more excited about keeping their teeth looking good when their teeth feel good, so keep your dental health at a high standard and you are more likely to have good-looking teeth.

FAQs: Stained Teeth and Teeth Whitening

When you start researching how to get rid of stained teeth, and tooth whitening, there are some new terms thrown at you.  Here is a quick glossary and FAQ:

Common Terms:

Enamel: Think of the enamel as a hard outer shell. It is made up mostly of crystallized calcium phosphate and protein. It is strong, but can be brittle too. It can also become stained.

Dentin: If you look under the outer shell you would find the dentin. It too is made from minerals that are bound up in collagen. It’s yellow in color and softer than the enamel and can decay very easily if exposed.

Cementum: If we were to pull out a tooth and look at the bottom, we would see the cementum. It covers the roots of your teeth and helps bond the tooth in place.

Dental pulp: This is area of your tooth that is actually alive. There are nerves and a blood supply in the dental pulp. It creates more dentin and cementum and helps remineralize your tooth.

Veneers:  Very thin, porcelain or other man-made “covers” that fit over your front teeth providing a better tooth appears.  They are applied by a dentist.

Common Questions:

How long does teeth whitening last?  You will need to continuously focus on whitening your teeth.  A treatment usually lasts 6-12 months before you might notice stains again.

Can you do tooth whitening at home?  Yes.  Programs like this one can help you get rid of your stained teeth at home.  Just be sure whatever you use is safe.

Is tooth whitening by a dentist covered by insurance?  Not usually.

How much does tooth whitening cost?  It varies, but at a dentist is it usually $150 or more.

Can tooth whitening harm teeth?  It can, if you use a method that is not approved, too harsh, or if you don’t use a product as instructed.  Be careful with your teeth!

My tooth stains are really bad. Can I still get rid of them?  Yes, but allow more time.  You might need to focus on whitening your teeth for several months, but you can do it.

Other FAQs

What About Resin Stains on Your Teeth?

Stains on your cosmetic resin or resin bonding can be pretty common.  Many of the causes of resin stains are the same causes of tooth stains, including pigmented food and drinks like red wine or coffee.

You can get rid of these resin stains by brushing and flossing regularly, by following tooth whitening programs, or by having your dentist periodically clean your resins.

The good news is that resin composites and resin bondings will not discolor as quickly as your natural teeth will, so the treatment frequency should be less taxing than trying to unstain your real teeth porcelain.

How to remove tough stains from teeth

Typically, stained teeth is pretty routine and uniform.  It is often caused by drinking lots of coffee, red wine, smoking, or just not brushing often enough.  It is also caused by age….. teeth just get yellow!

Occasionally, really tough stains will emerge on your teeth.  This could be due to a particularly habit you have (like drinking soda from a straw and hitting the same tooth each time) or other reasons.  Perhaps you are a sommelier and have to taste – and spit out — lots of red wine each day.  Stains can also be caused by an injury to your enamel.

For tough stains, it is probably good to get some advice from your dentist.  Don’t worry, they have seen everything.  In addition, you may want to do a longer course of a home-based whitening program (like this one).

yellow teeth stain braces

What about yellow or stained teeth from braces?

Braces and orthodontics can cause stains on teeth, but during and after the time when someone is wearing the braces.  There is even a term for it — “Braces Stain.”

While wearing braces, it is easy to develop tooth staining because the braces can trap food in and around them, and the trapped food eventually begins to leak pigment in to the teeth.  This is why it is important to actually step-up your dental care habits while wearing braces, to be sure you keep the food from getting wedged in to your braces.  We know this can be hard to do, because braces also caused sensitive teeth, but it is important to attend to your teeth often while wearing braces.

Post-braces is another very common time to experience some teeth staining.  What you are actually experiencing is that the minerals on your teeth, in the spot where you braces were, is worn down.  Until the minerals are back, this area is prone to discoloration and may often times appear much whiter than the rest of the tooth, which is undergoing normal, routine staining.

Having your teeth professionally cleaned after your braces are removed is a good way to ward this off, and even out the pigmentation on your teeth.  Keeping up healthy brushing habits is also important.  In time, the tooth color should balance itself out, but in more severe cases “remineralization” or tooth veneers can be considered.


kids stain teeth

What to do about yellow teeth in kids

When it comes to kids, yellow teeth are incredibly common.  It is a shame, because those little angels have such young teeth.

Kids teeth tend to be more hollow and less dense than adult’s teeth.  Even adult teeth in children — once they get them — will have a yellow appearance for a while.  Don’t be terribly alarmed, but be sure your child is keeping up healthy brushing habits.  Keep in mind that acidic foods and hard candies can contribute to teeth having a colored appearance.

Is a tooth stain ever a dental or medical problem?

Yes, it can be.

Dark, acute stains on your teeth are sometimes more than just coffee or wine stains.  They can be a sign of a dental health issue.

If your stain is accompanied by tooth or gum pain, or if the stain appears to be growing rapidly or changing its color quickly, you probably need to see a dentist.  No amount of tooth whitener can compete with a tooth that has a legitimate dental health issue.

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About the Author

Sean Froyd

Sean Froyd