Can Yellow Teeth Become White Once More?

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

Yellow teeth are far from the epitome of beauty since everyone prefers white teeth over them. Well, if you have pearly white enamel that sparkles in the sun, what is there not to like about it? Absolutely no disadvantages to having whiter teeth.

Bleached tooth shade vs darkest tooth shade

With that being said, it wasn’t as if your teeth were always yellow because you do remember a point in time when they were white. What happened to them to make them discolor so much? Is it possible to undo the process and remove the yellow stains?

That is what we’re here for today. We’re here to let you know that yellow teeth are not an irreversible condition. However in order to revert them back to their beautifully white color, you do need to use the right treatments to whiten them.

Yellow teeth is a reversible condition

When your teeth become yellow, it is not an irreversible condition. The entire process of tooth discoloration is essentially an accumulation of stains on your teeth. It can be a result of extrinsic stains, intrinsic stains, or a combination of both.

Therefore in order to get them white again, you simply need to reverse the process for each type of stain. However, before we do that it helps to understand what each type is and how they form so that you can apply the correct whitening method to get rid of them.

Yellowing from extrinsic stains

Extrinsic stains are located on the exterior of your teeth, which means they cover over the outermost layer of your enamel. They are not bonded nor embedded into the tooth and that actually means that they are easier to get rid of.

cup of coffee with pot

Examples of extrinsic stains:

  • Plaque that picks up coloring from food.
  • Tartar that accumulates various stains.
  • Coffee, tea, red wine or other pigmented foods that latch onto the enamel.

The extrinsic stains are literally sitting on top of the teeth and that makes them susceptible to mechanical removal. In other words they are easily removable by brushing with whitening toothpastes or via a professional dental cleaning.

How whitening toothpaste removes extrinsic stains

Whitening toothpastes are very effective at mechanically removing extrinsic stains with their abrasives and pyrophosphates. Together they’re very effective ingredients in your paste that will get your teeth white again.

The abrasives within toothpastes are the key functional whitening ingredient that gets rid of the staining. Studies have shown that the abrasiveness of a toothpaste is the main determining factor in how effective it can whiten teeth. That means if there weren’t any abrasives in it, the toothpaste would have zero effect on yellow teeth.

dental expert activated charcoal toothpaste

Examples of toothpaste abrasives for whitening:

  • Silica
  • Hydrated silica
  • Silicon dioxide
  • Hydrated silicon dioxide
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Activated charcoal

The pyrophosphates within whitening toothpastes don’t exactly whiten but they will prevent them from staining. Their effect is that they prevent plaque and stains from sticking onto your enamel. Therefore they effectively help keep your teeth white for longer.

In summary, the abrasives within whitening toothpaste help you scrub off the stains. The pyrophosphates will help keep your teeth stay white. Together, they are an effective combination for reversing yellow teeth that are due to extrinsic stains.

How a teeth cleaning removes external stains

A professional dental cleaning will achieve the same end result as whitening toothpaste but more effectively and efficiently.

Instead of using an abrasive, your dentist or hygienist will use an ultrasonic scaler that vibrates at tens of thousands of rpm. The vibrating metal scaler will mechanically remove the plaque, tartar, and extrinsic stains.

The difference between the ultrasonic scaler and your toothbrush is that it is electric powered and will remove stains faster than you could ever brush. What is your brushing rpm? Bet it isn’t anywhere near what this electric scaler can do!

Nonetheless, an important point is that even dental cleanings can only remove extrinsic stains. The reason being the scaler can only reach the outer surface of the tooth. You can’t brush nor scale the inside of your tooth. For intrinsic stain removal, we’ll cover it in the next section.

Yellow teeth from intrinsic stains

Intrinsic stains are located beneath the surface of your enamel and are therefore considered deeply embedded inside the tooth. Due to its interior location, its removal is more difficult because mechanical means cannot reach it.

Examples of intrinsic stains:

  • Tetracycline staining
  • Extrinsic staining that never got removed and became deeply embedded into the tooth.

The only way to get rid of intrinsic stains is by using chemical agents that can penetrate beyond the enamel surface. You need a chemical that can literally diffuse through the teeth and oxidize them. One of the few but effective agent which can oxidize intrinsic stains is hydrogen peroxide.

How hydrogen peroxide removes intrinsic stains

Since hydrogen peroxide is a chemical agent, it is able to penetrate and diffuse through the tooth to oxidize intrinsic stains. Due to its ability to diffuse into the tooth, which allows it to remove these stains that mechanical brushing cannot.

Mechanism for how peroxide oxidizes stains:

  1. Hydrogen peroxide decomposes into water and oxygen but the intermediate steps can produce powerful free radicals.
  2. These free radicals are highly reactive and oxidize double conjugated bonds of stain molecules.
  3. The oxidized double bonds become single bonds, which makes them absorb less light and reflect more of it. In other words, the stain appears whiter.
Hydrogen peroxide oxidation of double bonds
Credit: Clifton Carey

Technically the stains are still present in the tooth but they simply become invisible to the naked eye.

The darker and more vibrant the stain molecules are, the more double conjugated bonds they tend to possess. In essence, they absorb more light and reflect less of it. That makes the stains look colored.

Requires correct treatment to whiten yellow teeth

The first thing you need to do is correctly identify which type of teeth staining you have. That way you can come up with a viable plan to whiten your teeth.

Are your teeth yellow due to extrinsic, intrinsic, or a combination of both stains? Depending on your answer, the treatment method may differ.

How to get rid of extrinsic stains

Extrinsic stains are only located on the exterior of the tooth so removal by mechanical means is sufficient.

  1. Get a professional teeth cleaning.
  2. Use a whitening toothpaste twice a day for two minutes each.

However if you want a little “oomph” you can still use the intrinsic whitening removal method as well. It will increase the effectiveness and efficiency.

How to get rid of intrinsic stains

If your teeth are yellow due to intrinsic stains, using purely extrinsic removal methods will not work. You can try but what you’ll find is you’re brushing your teeth everyday but your teeth will still look yellow!

  1. Get a dental cleaning.
  2. Use a whtitening toothpaste at home.
  3. Use a hydrogen peroxide product such as the strips, trays, or even in-office teeth whitening.
opalesence whitening gel in a tube

It is crucial that you include a treatment with peroxide in it because without it, the intrinsic stains will never get removed. The treatment option is up to you to decide because they should all work. Of course the OTC products will cost less than the in-office professional ones.

Studies have shown that all concentrations of peroxide can potentially whiten your teeth to the same level. It is just that lower concentration products require a longer treatment time to achieve the same results as a higher one.

In other words, you need to be more patient if you’re using a weaker OTC product. That is similar to how you need to pay more for faster shipping. If you want whiter teeth faster, you can always pay for it!

How to get rid of both extrinsic and intrinsic stains

The only way to remove both types of stains is by utilizing the intrinsic stain removal method. Even though we say that it is meant for intrinsic stains, in actuality the hydrogen peroxide will oxidize both intrinsic and extrinsic stains.

It’s not as if the peroxide will selectively choose which stains to pulverize. It will get rid of them indiscriminately.

Can yellow teeth become white again?

Yellow teeth can certainly become white again as long as you use the correct whitening treatment for your type of tooth stain. The important point is to recognize which type of stains you have on your teeth. If you use the method meant for the wrong type, you will be pulling your hair out wondering why your teeth are still yellow!

The yellow stains can always be removed so you shouldn’t fret about it. No one has to suffer through a lifetime of un-white teeth. Nonetheless, just to remind everyone, yellow teeth aren’t unhealthy because they function the same as white teeth.


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