Dental benefits

What color should my teeth be?

Many people strive to have pearly whites. But did you know that teeth naturally darken with age? Dentin, the inner hard part and main portion of your teeth, is mostly responsible for the color of your teeth — whether they’re white, off-white, gray or yellowish. The color of teeth varies between people and even from tooth to tooth of the same person.

Baby teeth, also called primary teeth, are typically whiter than permanent teeth because they are more calcified. In baby teeth, the dentin that makes up the main portion of the tooth structure is very light yellow — almost white — so it doesn’t show as much through the translucent white enamel, the thin outer covering of the tooth.

Permanent teeth are naturally darker than primary teeth. The yellow dentin darkens with age and takes up more tooth structure than in baby teeth. That means the dentin is more likely to be visible through the translucent blueish-white enamel. The darker the dentin, the yellower your teeth.

Over the years, teeth become stained by food and drink. Coffee, tea, colas and red wine have intense color pigments that attach to your enamel. Yellow teeth can also be caused by aging. Or they may just be dirty, as plaque buildup often has a yellowish color. Proper brushing, flossing and regular visits to the dentist can remove this plaque, but over the long term, plaque can cause a permanent stain.

A brown color is a more advanced version of yellow stains. Smoking or chewing tobacco can stain the teeth, causing them to go from yellow to brown to dark brown. Other culprits of not-so-bright teeth are age, trauma, medication or genetics. Be careful: Brown spots on your teeth can be a sign of tooth decay stemming from snacking on too many sugary and starchy foods.

If you choose to start a whitening routine, check with your dentist about options. Your dentist will be able to tell you which method will work best — and is the safest — for you. Tooth whitening can cause tooth and gum sensitivity, so dentists may discourage whitening if you have sensitive teeth. Whitening also won’t work on crowns and fillings, teeth stained by antibiotics, or gray teeth.

Whitening procedures at the dental office are not typically covered under dental plans.