Tooth Color and Genetics

Do you remember a time when your teeth were whiter? Do you look at photos and think about changes to your teeth since you were young? Or, do you find yourself looking at family members or peers whose pearly whites are enviable, and wonder where you went wrong?


Do you feel like you haven’t done enough coffee drinking or smoking in your life to have such a yellow smile?

Can genetics cause yellow teeth?

There’s been hot debate for years whether genetics can leave you pre-disposed to tooth decay. The idea is, if genes dictate absolutely every feature of our natural form, maybe some of us have teeth that become discolored faster. Obviously, something that leaves stains needs to hit your teeth—coffee, cigarette smoke and wine are three famous culprits. But do some people have tooth enamel that’s less resistant to those types of stains?


Are your teeth yellowing thanks to genetics, or other factors?


To start, some people are born with naturally whiter teeth, while others’ are less white. What’s more, each individual tooth in your mouth could sprout as a slightly different shade than its neighbor.


Natural tooth color depends on the structure and density of the tissues that make up your tooth. And though you’re born with a specific composition to your teeth, external factors affect it as well. Most dentists agree that tooth yellowing is usually the consequence of lifestyle, but that’s not to say some people’s teeth don’t get yellower faster.


Any change in the structure of a tooth can alter its color. Meaning, the better your oral hygiene is, the better the chances that you can keep your smile white.


That said, even if all the people in the world avoided smoking and drinking wine and the like, we’d still have differently colored teeth. This proves that there are at least some genetic pre-determinations that come into play.


Which parts of the tooth is responsible for tooth color?
The mineral balances in the very dentin that makes up your tooth can determine tooth color; however, the enamel is what puts the real “shade” on it. Enamel is what gets stained—and as you wear enamel down (for example with acidic foods or carbonated beverages), you risk staining the dentin and suffering irreversible tooth discoloration.


Natural color, plus natural dispositions


Knowing where tooth discoloration occurs, your tooth color is influenced not only by the color teeth come in as, but also by their resistance to external factors. But genetics alone are never to blame for discolored teeth. Lifestyle and trauma to individual teeth continue to be the greatest factors determining tooth color.


If you come from a family with lots of yellow or gray teeth, but not for any lifestyle choice like smoking, you might be genetically pre-disposed to teeth that show stains over time. Take the best care of your teeth that you can, and what yellowing or damage does occur is that much more likely to be reversible.

About Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S.

Dr. Mark Marchbanks has practiced dentistry in Arlington Texas since 1983. He enjoys caring for patients young and old. You can find Dr. Marchbanks on
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