There is beauty in the magic splendor of softly falling flakes of snow against the backdrop of winter's color palate, but when it comes to teeth, most people want one shade: the whitest white that white can be.
Unfortunately, teeth come in many shades and can change color from a variety of causes, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing education.
As the tooth enamel develops, the color can be affected by many factors, says Academy spokesperson Howard S. Glazer, DDS, FAGD. "White, bright teeth certainly help maintain a youthful appearance," said Dr. Glazer. Unfortunately, stains from food and drink can darken teeth over time, usually resulting in a yellow or orange hue. Illness can discolor dentin, and heredity or environmental factors can discolor both dentin and enamel. In rare cases, injury can discolor either dentin or enamel.
Maternal use of certain antibiotics, notably those of the tetracycline family, during pregnancy can cause brown or gray discoloration of the baby's tooth enamel. Children who take this medication during the period of permanent tooth development may have similar discoloration of the permanent teeth.
But you don't have to live with a dull smile, says Dr. Glazer. "With today's techniques and materials, we can change the color of a patient's teeth to provide a more healthy, youthful appearance," he said.
Professional tooth-whitening products can improve enamel color in many instances, although severe discoloration may require enamel-bonding procedures for good cosmetic results. Contact your dentist to obtain a proper diagnosis and to learn what treatment options are available.