When we talk about a healthy smile, we’re usually talking about teeth that are straight, unmarred by cracks and chips, and most of all, gleaming white. But does tooth whiteness actually have anything to do with tooth health? The answer is more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.”
How Teeth Get Discoloured
To understand how your tooth colour relates to your tooth health, it’s important to first understand how tooth discolouration happens. There are a few different common causes of yellowed teeth. One well-known one is smoking or other tobacco use. Nicotine itself is colourless, but when it’s combined with oxygen, it turns yellow. Between that and tar, tobacco has a high potential for staining. Over time, these materials can work their way into the tiny pores on your enamel and cause yellow or brown discolouration.
Another common source of tooth discolouration is staining from foods and beverages. Some foods and drinks are highly pigmented, allowing them to work their way into your enamel and leave residue that makes your teeth appear less white. But the real risk is in foods and drinks that are not just highly pigmented, but highly acidic. A strong acid content can weaken enamel, making staining from food pigments happen more easily and quickly than they would otherwise. That’s why foods and drinks that are both acidic and pigmented, like coffee and red wine, are the biggest culprits for staining.
Does Discolouration Mean Damage?
Discolouration itself doesn’t put your teeth at risk of anything — but often the discolouration comes hand in hand with another, more dangerous side effect.
For example, tobacco use does significantly increase your risk of tooth loss. And of course, it has nasty health ramifications throughout the rest of the body, too. And while the same can’t necessarily be said for coffee or red wine, wear and tear to your enamel as a result of highly acidic foods and drinks can put you at increased risk of cavities. Your enamel exists to protect the sensitive interior of your teeth from the bacteria-rich environment of your mouth. If your enamel becomes too weak to do its job, cavities can take root in your mouth more easily.
White, Healthy Teeth
Teeth can certainly be both white and healthy, but just because your teeth are white doesn’t mean they’re healthy, and simply being healthy doesn’t necessarily make them white. It’s possible to have gleaming white teeth that are deeply unhealthy, and it’s also possible to have teeth that don’t look very pretty, but are robust and in great condition.
The bottom line is that you should never take your oral health for granted. It’s important to see your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings to ensure that you’re staying on top of your oral health. Whitening can make your smile shine, but it’s no substitute for excellent dental care.