Our teeth aren't supposed to be white. Well, let me rephrase that: Teeth aren't supposed to be the color white you see so often in celebrity culture. 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's just the way it is. It doesn't mean that they are unhealthy. Why do we get so obsessed with the color of our teeth? Is it more than a status symbol? Even with this question unanswered, the fact remains that there are things that can discolor our teeth and even stain them over time. Once again, unless the enamel is being affected (and it might be), it's not a sign of unhealthy teeth—just dirty 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?
Quit smoking, as it stains your 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. I smoked cigarettes for 15 years (and non-filtered ones at that). I've been "cig-free" for three years now. 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!
Stop drinking coffee, tea, and soda too. Is that unreasonable? Probably. 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.
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.
Have your teeth cleaned by a dentist. 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.
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?
Anatomy of a Tooth
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.