Does your not so bright smile make you feel self-conscious? Do you find yourself hiding your smile even photographs or even when talking with people? Even if you are diligent with brushing and flossing every day, your teeth tend to yellow with age. The good news though is that you don’t have to accept this particular sign of aging gracefully.

Here is what you need to know about why your teeth change color and how you can whiten them. Here are the three things you need to know about teeth whitening.

Why are my teeth yellow?

There are a lot factors that may contribute to the yellowing of your smile. What you eat and drink can be a big factor, especially coffee, tea and red wine because they contain a color pigment called chromegen that adheres to the enamel of your teeth. If you smoke that call also contribute to the yellowing as well. Both the tar and the nicotine in tobacco can cause a yellowish stain on your teeth. Medications like certain antihistamines, antipsychotics and high blood pressure pills can also cause tooth darkening. Even chemotherapy and neck radiation can cause stains on your teeth.

There are other factors as well like trauma and age. Sometimes when you get an injury to your teeth it will cause them to change color. This is because your tooth lays down more dentin, the soft layer of a teeth which is darker in color, in reaction to the injury. And of course as we age, our teeth yellow more because our tooth enamel thins out as we get older exposing more of the dentin layer.

How can I whiten my teeth?

Today there are many different options for whitening your teeth. The basic process is that you apply a whitening product with either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide which breaks up the stains on your teeth into smaller pieces brightening your smile.

There are three common options when it comes to teeth whitening. Switching to a whitening toothpaste is the simplest and least expensive option. While all toothpastes combat yellowing to some degree, whitening toothpastes have addition polishing chemicals that help with stain removal. Keep in mind though that because these toothpastes can only remove stains on the surface of the teeth, they cannot change the color of your teeth completely. And it could take several months of use before you see any noticeable change in the color of your teeth.

At-home bleaching kits are another option. These whiteners contain peroxide so can actually bleach the tooth enamel. They come in either a strip form that sticks to your teeth or as a gel that can be placed in a tray that can be put over your teeth. There are also whitening rinses that are available as well. Like mouthwashes, they freshen your breath, reduce dental plaque and help prevent gum disease, but these rinses also contain teeth whitening ingredients like hydrogen peroxide.

For best results though, you should have it done at the dentist’s office. Referred to as chairside bleaching, it can be done in only one office visit. The dentist will apply either a protective shield or gel on your gums before applying the bleach directly on your teeth. With this approach, you will see an even bigger difference in the brightness of your smile. When done at the office, your teeth will get three or more shade lighter instead of just one. Why mess with the health of your smile when you can have a dental professional ensure that the whitening process is both effective and safe.

How effective is teeth whitening?

Before you follow through with any of these options, you should consult with your dentist to see if you are a good candidate for teeth whitening. Unfortunately whiteners cannot fix all discoloration problems. Teeth that have more brown or gray tones don’t usually bleach well and whitening doesn’t work on veneers, crowns or fillings. If your tooth discoloration is the results of an injury or from medication, whitening won’t work either. Teeth whitening works best for people who have healthy teeth and gums and have no fillings and who just have a yellowish tint to their teeth.

There are some side effects you need to be aware of too. Some people experience tooth sensitivity and using the whiteners too much can also damage your tooth enamel and even your gums. So please talk to your dentist about the safest route for you to take.

When done right, you will be able to enjoy your whiter, brighter smile for up to about a year before you may need it done again. You should be careful though of what you eat and drink and try not to drink too much coffee, tea and red wine and if you are a smoker, consider breaking the habit.

If your dentist tells you that you are not a good fit for teeth whitening, don’t worry. There are other cosmetic procedures that can also improve your smile.

Veneers are a thin piece of porcelain that can be bonded to your teeth. It can correct discoloration and chips in your teeth and other cosmetic issues. A small piece of your original tooth has to be removed to add the veneer so a small amount of anesthesia is usually required, but it is a quick and painless way to improve your smile.

If you are missing teeth, then you can also talk to your dentist about getting dentures or implants. Dentures can be removed and cleaned while with implants that a surgically inserted into the gum for a more permanent solution.

Bottom line is that you don’t have to be embarrassed about the condition of your smile anymore. You have a lot of safe and effective options when it comes to improving the brightness and shape of your smile. Call your dentist today and ask about what teeth whitening options they have and schedule a consultation. You will have peace of mind knowing that you are in the right hands.