7 Reasons Why White Teeth Don’t Shine Like They Used to

Having your teeth whitened professionally is a serious investment. It can cost hundreds of dollars and those “zingers” you experience from the enamel being stripped away… ouch! Beauty is pain, indeed. And for what it’s worth, whitening at home is not exactly simple, either, especially when done carefully, properly, and with the best teeth whitening products.  

One big thing to know? Any of that work, money, and recovery is wasted if you don’t audit the behaviors that stain white teeth. (Same goes if you’re on the younger side and still have your natural pearly-white smile.) 

If you’re curious which habits fall into that bucket, well, we summoned the wisdom of teeth expert Dr. Keith Bracy to help enlighten. (He’s a DDS in NYC’s West Village, which we’d guess has some of the whitest smiles per capita in the US.) And don’t worry, we won’t be telling you to cut out the red wine or the coffee. But brushing your teeth after both of those things? That’s what’s important.

7 Habits (and Facts of Life) That Lead to Yellow Teeth

1. Not flossing or brushing quickly enough after eating

Most of these kinds of stories would lead with your favorite indulgences—chocolate, pasta sauce, coffee, red wine, dark cola, even curries, soy sauce, and more. The truth is, yes, these things are the likeliest foods and drinks to stain your teeth. But avoiding your favorite foods for the sake of a pearly white smile is a buzzkill, in our book. And what you should instead focus on doing is brushing and flossing quickly after indulging in these things. “Chances are if you are eating like a ‘normal’ human being, you’ll encounter plenty of foods and liquids that will naturally stain your enamel,” Bracy adds. “Some level of food and beverage staining is normal and can not be avoided in a healthy, varied diet.” So, minimize the damage as best you can: By cleaning up afterwards. Then, plan for regular whitening maintenance between those more significant professional sessions.

2. Brushing or flossing incorrectly

On the topic of brushing and flossing: It’s not just important to do these things. It’s important to brush and floss correctly, Bracy says. Brushing frequently (2-3 times daily) and for the proper amount of time (at least 2 minutes) and throughout your entire mouth—well, that’s what counts. And while it may feel silly to floss after each meal, the most important thing is to floss before bed, when otherwise that food might stay pressed between your teeth for 8 or more hours on end. That’s a recipe for plaque buildup, which—no surprise here—is detrimental to a bright smile.

3. Not whitening

It’s perfectly legit to not want to spend time and money on getting a whiter smile. But if that’s you, stop comparing yourself to the people you see on TV—or to anyone in your daily life who has unusually bright teeth. “Stop overanalyzing why you have yellow teeth and consider if it is just what mother nature gave you,” says Bracy. “Most people with very white and bright teeth were not born that way either. They sought professional whitening or had procedures done such as veneers to make them that way.” If you really want a brighter smile, then speak with your dentist about the best plan forward, or for their professional advice on the best and safest at-home measures for you. (We spoke with one of our most trusted dentists on the topic, too.)

4. Smoking

Come on now. Did you really think smoking would somehow not make this list? As if its negative impact on your teeth are the most worrisome side effects. And hey, it’s not just the tobacco: “The ‘green stuff’ can lead to tooth discoloration, too,” says Bracy. “Cannabis contains the same staining molecules called tannins, also contained in tea leaves.” 

5. Getting older 

Just like your hairs thin and the collagen in your skin diminishes with age, so too does your enamel cease to protect your teeth as effectively over the years. “Maybe you are just getting old,” Bracy suggests. “Teeth become more resistant to professional whitening techniques with age. Chances are, the younger you are, the better results you’ll get with teeth whitening procedures.” But don’t let that discourage you from making your best effort. You can still improve your smile regardless of the starting point and age-induced friction.

6. Skipping routine dental cleanings

We’ve all been guilty of this at some point: Skipping routine dental cleanings can have a severe impact on your oral health, including teeth brightness. “It is very common for patients to come to a dental office, neglecting regular oral hygiene visits but very concerned over their teeth shade,” Bracy says. “Part of a regular dental cleaning is extrinsic stain removal – ‘extrinsic’ refers to surface level staining that the dental hygienist can remove with polishing procedures.”

7. Using a sub-par whitening method

Whitening toothpaste can’t hurt, but it also won’t get you movie-star teeth. Bracy suggests picking a whitening system that employs custom whitening trays, so that they fit to your smile and properly cover your dental real estate evenly. “If you whiten your teeth with custom whitening trays such as with the KöR Whitening System, you can use the trays for ‘maintenance whitening’,” he explains. “Think of ‘maintenance whitening’ as a touch-up whitening done once every few months, or when you want to bring out the brightest shade for a special event. As long as you have not had major dental work, the trays should fit well for years and you can purchase ‘refill’ whitening gel from your dentist.”