While several factors contribute to discolored teeth, nicotine is one reason teeth can change color over time.
The good news is, there are professional, over-the-counter, and at-home treatments you can use that may help make your teeth brighter and whiter again.
Does nicotine make teeth more likely to stain?
Yes, smoking or using chewing tobacco products can make the enamel of your teeth more likely to stain. Once you start using nicotine products, it doesn’t take long for your teeth to take on a yellowish appearance.
After chronic use of these products, it’s not uncommon for your teeth to turn darker or begin to look brown.
Can nicotine damage teeth beyond appearance?
The appearance of stained teeth is not the only problem that comes with using nicotine products. Your gums can also take a beating from repeated exposure to nicotine.
If you smoke, there’s a good chance your immune system is not as strong as it should be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this makes it difficult to fight off a gum infection.
Compared to a nonsmoker, a smoker has twice the risk of gum disease. Plus, the CDC also points out that if you continue smoking while dealing with gum damage, you’ll find it harder for your gums to heal.
Teeth whitening options
When it comes to tackling the stains on your teeth, the method you choose depends on several factors, including:
- the severity of the stains
- how much you want to spend
- how often you want to treat your teeth
That said, there are three general categories of teeth whitening options to choose from. These include:
- teeth whitening by a professional
- at-home treatments
- do-it-yourself (DIY) remedies
Due to the number of teeth whitening options to choose from, we spoke to three dentists from dental practices in different parts of the country to get their take.
Professional teeth whitening
If you’ve tried several at-home options with minimal success, or you have questions for a dentist, a visit to the dentist chair might be in order. According to the experts, making an appointment with your dentist before trying any whitening product is essential.
Since smoke deeply stains every tooth in the mouth, Dr. Lana Rozenberg says, you won’t be able to keep your teeth white for very long with over-the-counter products such as toothpastes or whitening strips. That’s why smokers generally rely on the professional services of dentists.
Quick in-office visits
Rozenberg says in office whitening like Zoom, can help eradicate the nicotine stains on your teeth. “This process involves painting your teeth with a peroxide solution and exposing your teeth to very strong light,” she explains. It is a painless procedure that takes anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour.
Customized do-at-home treatments
The most effective treatment option says Dr. Christopher Rouse is 10% carbamide peroxide in a tray custom-fit for your mouth and teeth. “This method creates a lower amount of tooth sensitivity, conditions the tissue, and allows a longer contact time with the tooth (overnight wear) which allows the material to bleach deep intrinsic stains,” he explains.
In-office treatments can speed up the process, but Rouse says you also need to do at-home bleaching for significantly stained teeth.
Typically, Rozenberg says in-office whitening procedures can last up to three years, but in smokers, they generally only last about one year.
In addition, regular dental cleanings every six months can help remove stains, plaque, and tartar. Regular cleanings can also help prevent staining.
Over-the-counter teeth whitening products
You can find over-the-counter teeth whitening products at most drug stores and pharmacies. They generally come in the form of teeth whitening gels, strips, or bleaches, which are applied with teeth trays. Rozenberg says these products are very effective for getting rid of smoking stains.
However, she does recommend using gels and bleaches sparingly.
“Products like Crest Strips are okay to use on a regular basis, just make sure to follow instructions because they can cause tooth sensitives and gum irritation if used in excess and worn for too long at a time,” she explains.
Before trying a DIY bleaching option, Rouse says an exam from a dental professional is a great service. “Some teeth are discolored because the nerve of the tooth has died and, unaddressed, could be a health hazard,” he explains.
Plus, restorations such as crowns, fillings, and veneers will not change colors with bleaching. That’s why Rouse says you should be aware of dental work that may need to be redone after bleaching if it creates an aesthetic concern.
Also, the use of super-concentrated solutions of bleaching material tends to increase sensitivity. If left touching gum tissue, Rouse says they can cause a chemical burn. While these burns are reversible and cause no damage to the tooth structure, he does point out that the feeling is very uncomfortable.
To avoid this, he says combining a well-made custom delivery system with the proper concentrations of material can help you avoid discomfort.
Other at-home DIY
Baking soda and peroxide. Rozenberg says brushing your teeth with baking soda and a few drops of peroxide can help whiten your teeth. She recommends adding a few drops of hydrogen peroxide to baking soda until it creates a paste. Then, use the paste like you would a commercial toothpaste.
“The addition of hydrogen peroxide whitens your teeth even more than baking soda alone,” she explains. Before you try this method, Dr. Natalie Pennington, of Dentistry.com says to pay attention to how you make the paste and to not make it too abrasive or it may cause damage to the teeth. Her recommendation is to apply the paste and gently rub into enamel for 30 seconds.
Brush after smoking. If you’re going to continue smoking, Pennington says you will need to be proactive in keeping your teeth white. “This includes brushing right after smoking to quickly remove tar and chemicals that can become embedded into the enamel, causing stain,” she explains.
Mouthwash and brush. Another way to create a shiny look to your teeth, says Rozenberg is to hold mouthwash in your mouth and then start brushing your teeth, pushing the brush in past your closed lips. Basically, you’re brushing your teeth with the mouthwash.
Rinse with hydrogen peroxide. Rozenberg says you can dilute a small amount (less than an ounce) of hydrogen peroxide with water, rinse your mouth, and after several seconds, spit it out, and thoroughly rinse with water. “This solution is an easy way to lighten yellow stains,” she explains.
If you’re a smoker or use other nicotine products, you need to be diligent about your oral hygiene, especially if you want to minimize or remove the stains on your teeth.
Typically, a smoker can expect to bleach about twice as often as a nonsmoker. The good news is, through the use of professional treatments, do-it-yourself products, and other at-home methods, over time, you can brighten the appearance of your teeth.