It’s totally understandable why you might want to get rid of the yellow stain on your teeth. While natural teeth can run the gamut from dazzling white to darker yellow, yellow teeth are often caused by stains from the things you eat and drink — a change that’ll become more noticeable with time.
While cosmetic whitening has been big for years, the desire to whiten your teeth could be extra strong right now thanks to the popularity of video calls. “Many patients are actually coming in for whitening procedures since they see themselves all day on Zoom,” Dr. Andrew Deutch, a dentist in midtown Manhattan, tells Bustle. “So this has been a pretty popular service recently.”
The trouble is, not all yellowing is caused by minor surface stains. Teeth naturally start to yellow the older you get. According to Deutch, it’s because the enamel, or outer layer of your teeth, is porous on a microscopic level, making it easy for discolorations to seep in.
Yellowing can also be a side effect of over-brushing, which is tough to reverse. “These days I see more ‘yellow teeth’ from patients who have scrubbed away their enamel from brushing too aggressively, exposing the dentin layer underneath, which is more yellow,” says dentist Dr. Joyce Kahng, DDS.
If you still want to give whitening a try, here are seven dentist-recommended ways to get rid of yellow teeth.
Avoid These Staining Foods
“People who consume foods with high-staining potential often get more yellowed or stained teeth than people who don’t,” Deutch says. The main culprits are sauces with vibrant colors like soy and marinara, as well as bright fruits like blueberries and raspberries. Beverages can do it, too. “Drinks such as coffees, teas, and red wines are very good examples of drinks that can cause your teeth to stain,” Deutch adds.
If you’re worried about yellow stains, it may help to brush right after eating or drinking. “If coffee is a must, I recommend drinking iced coffee and using a straw to avoid direct contact with your teeth,” Kahng says, adding this is especially true if you just had them whitened. You might even want to get in the habit of drinking coffee and following up with a sip of water to rinse teeth before they can stain.
This won’t come as a shock, but Deutch says smoking is one of the many lifestyle-related causes of yellowed teeth. It’s due to the nicotine in cigarettes, which leaves behind a yellow tinge. Quitting is always easier said than done, but you should notice a marked improvement in the color of your teeth once cigarettes are out of your life.
Try A Whitening Toothpaste
The next time you need toothpaste, make sure you get one that has “whitening” on the label. Whitening toothpastes contain larger particles than regular toothpastes, which help buff away stains from the outer layer of your teeth. “They also contain a very small amount of peroxide that seeps into the pores of the teeth and whitens,” Deutch says. Brush with it twice a day, and you might notice a slightly brighter appearance in about six weeks.
Protect Your Enamel
Since thin tooth enamel can make your teeth look extra yellow, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t doing anything that strips that top layer away.
“The top layer, enamel, is white in color, and the bottom, dentin, has a yellowish tinge,” Dr. Emilia Taneva, a board-certified orthodontist, tells Bustle. “If your enamel is thin, then your teeth may appear more yellow in color as more dentin peeks through to the surface.”
This can happen if you grind your teeth while you sleep at night, which wears down some of your enamel to expose more dentin. Damage can also occur if you brush too hard, so make sure you use a soft-bristled toothbrush, Taneva says, to keep your enamel safe.
Use Whitening Strips
Whitening strips are a good go-to, as well. Deutch recommends Crest 3D Whitestrips. “It’s very easy to use and it provides a way for you to keep the active whitening ingredient on their teeth for a longer amount of time,” he says. Compared to brushing with whitening toothpaste for a few minutes, leaving a white strip on your teeth for a half an hour (the usual recommended time) can give you better results.
Look for a teeth whitening kit that contains between 3-10% hydrogen peroxide. “Within this concentration range, the peroxide whitens teeth, but with fewer complications than dental-office bleaching sessions, where hydrogen peroxide concentrations may reach two to 35%,” Taneva says. “At either level, hydrogen peroxide provides its whitening effects by passing into your tooth and breaking down reflective molecules that catch the yellow light from the dentin layer.”
While strips often promise results in about two weeks, the speed of your results will depend on the shade of your teeth. “Not all teeth have the ability to whiten quickly,” Kahng says. “The strips may also require more diligence to see results, because of the lower concentration of hydrogen peroxide.” In other words, you may need to do a course of at-home whitening more than once.
Get Professional Whitening
If you try all of the above and your teeth are still yellow, professional bleaching from your dentist may do the trick. During an in-office procedure, “a dentist will take a mold of your teeth and create plastic trays to wear and fill with whitening solution,” Kahng says. They’ll also use a high concentration of professional grade whitening products (read: more hydrogen peroxide) to get noticeable results.
While whitening treatments can cause tooth sensitivity, having it done at your dentist’s office is often safer, especially if you’re going for that higher peroxide percentage. “For comparison, Crest White Strips contain around 6-7% hydrogen peroxide, whereas the dental office can use 30-40% hydrogen peroxide, “Kahng says. “Because it is so strong, the procedure also requires the dentist to place barriers on all the soft tissues to prevent any chemical burns.”
While costs vary depending on where you live, you can expect to pay about $300-$600.
Schedule A Dental Cleaning
“Good oral hygiene is a must if you want to keep your teeth bright,” Kahng says, and that includes getting regular dental cleanings. “The stains that exist on the outermost layer of the teeth (such as coffee stains) can be removed with professional cleanings,” she says.
Cleanings will also help prevent surface stains from absorbing into your teeth. To get a jump on the yellowing, Kahng recommends stopping in every six months. From there, your dentist will let you know the best course of action to take good care of your teeth.
Dalrymple A, Bean EJ, Badrock TC, Weidman RA, Thissen J, Coburn S, Murphy J. Enamel staining with e-cigarettes, tobacco heating products and modern oral nicotine products compared with cigarettes and snus: An in vitro study. Am J Dent. 2021 Feb;34(1):3-9. PMID: 33544982.
Fiorillo, L., Laino, L., De Stefano, R., D'Amico, C., Bocchieri, S., Amoroso, G., Isola, G., & Cervino, G. (2019). Dental Whitening Gels: Strengths and Weaknesses of an Increasingly Used Method. Gels (Basel, Switzerland), 5(3), 35. https://doi.org/10.3390/gels5030035
Dr. Andrew Deutch, dentist
Dr. Joyce Kahng, DDS, dentist
Dr. Emilia Taneva, board-certified orthodontist