By Stephen J. Praetorius for GQ.
Some reasons are obvious. Others, not so much.
It’s often said that the first thing people notice about you is your smile. Now, for people with pristinely white teeth, that’s not a problem. Because, put simply, those folks have nothing to worry about; when your teeth bear the same shade as a straight-out-the-ream piece of loose-leaf, there’s no chance that you’ll be judged harshly for the image framed between your lips. For the rest of us, however, people with varying degrees of dental imperfection that leave teeth anywhere from off-white to eggshell to, heaven forbid, parchment — plus a whole host of hues deeper into the yellow spectrum — this right-off-the-bat oral fixation might be the thing that causes us the most concern on the daily.
That’s all old news, though. Seriously, just ask the tooth whitening industry, which every year makes billions of dollars ($11 billion in 2016, to be exact) feeding off of people’s insecurities, selling everything from strips, gels and toothpastes to procedures that guarantee results after one sitting. Not that we blame them, of course; people want whiter teeth and they’re just satisfying the demand. But what if instead of looking to whiten teeth after the fact, you discovered the root cause of yellowing and cut it off at the pass? Wouldn’t that be more cost-effective? And so, it’s for exactly that purpose — to help pinpoint and eliminate whatever’s screwing up your smile — that we’ve rounded-up 7 of the worst tooth-decaying culprits, here.
1. Your diet’s out of whack.
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? First up: what you put in your mouth. In this department, certain foods like coffee and red wine have acquired a particularly bad rap over the years, but beyond those obvious offenders, there are a whole host of other consumables that are just as bad when it comes to yellowing white teeth. Prime among them: foods and drinks that are either very acidic, like citrus fruits, or very sugary, like sodas and sweets. These two factors both tend to weaken enamel and expose dentin, the yellowish matter below that makes up the second layer of your teeth. Additionally, dark berries and tea can also cause discoloration, and studies have shown that white wine, though it won’t mess anything up on its own, can make previous stains on your teeth darker. Tragic.
2. You don’t brush as much as you should.
Another obvious one here for you: if you’re not brushing your teeth at least twice a day — or better yet, after every meal like the dentist has been recommending you do since you were a kid — then you’re setting yourself up for failure, no matter how many whitening products you use down the line. The fact of the matter is that your mouth is a whirling cesspool of germs and leftover food, and without cleaning it regularly, that gross-ass mixture is going to set into your chompers. Can’t get to a toothbrush right after lunch? Then at least swish and spit some water to rid your face-hole of any potential staining materials.
3. Or you’re brushing way too much.
Now here’s one you might not know. In recent years, studies have shown that those same whitening toothpastes that claim to turn your teeth into pearly whites can actually have the opposite effect if you’re using them too much. Bummer, right? The issue is that many of these are made with abrasive agents, which work by physically scrubbing away stains on the surface of your teeth. And in the prescribed amount, they can do their job without damaging enamel. But if you’re brushing too often, or using too much paste when you do, then there’s going to be an issue, and you’re going to end up exposing that same yellow-colored dentine we talked about.
4. You’re genetically predisposed to yellow.
Fact of the matter is, not all enamel is created equal. Some of us are blessed with ultra-white stuff, protecting our teeth while at the same time looking aesthetically awesome to boot. On the other hand, there are whose teeth will never be quite whitewashed, simply because their bodies produce enamel in a particular unbleached hue. It’s the luck of the draw, really, and it’s unfair. Then again, so is life.
5. You took, or are taking, certain meds.
Fun fact: when you take a medicine, it doesn’t just target whatever it is you were prescribed it to treat. Au contraire, it spreads throughout the whole of your body via your bloodstream, making its way into just about every bit of you — including your teeth. And when they get there, certain drugs can actually have the unfortunate side-effect of darkening your fangs. Not that that should stop you from taking them of course, because your health definitely comes first, but it is something worth noting.
6. You’re somehow still a smoker.
Don’t even get us started.
7. You’re just getting old.
Bad news, fam: no matter how hard you try to whiten your teeth, they’re only going to get yellower from here on out. That’s because even healthy enamel starts to lose its luster as we age, succumbing bit by bit to the slow march of time. Which, in its own way, is comforting, if you think about it. In time, we’ll all be stuck with less-than-pristine teeth, of those we have left, flirting with the nurses for the last pudding cup at the retirement home.
And the playing field will finally be even.
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