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If you’re wearing braces, you may have noticed that your teeth are gradually turning yellow. This is a common problem among people who wear braces, but the reasons behind it are more complicated than you might think.
Yellow teeth with braces can be caused by poor oral hygiene, adhesive staining, food and drink staining, bracket staining, and ligature color. Smoking can also cause brown staining. Keep your teeth clean and white while wearing braces by brushing and flossing regularly and using a mouthwash.
The most obvious reason behind yellow teeth, with or without braces, is oral hygiene. But in this article, we’re going to go beyond just brushing your teeth. I notice yellowing and staining in all my patients’ teeth, even those with exemplary oral hygiene.
The truth is, you’ll need a little help to keep your teeth pristine after getting braces, and hopefully, this article will give you some ideas on how to do that.
Why are teeth yellow with braces?
I’m going to quickly go over the main reasons why teeth stain, become yellow, or give the illusion of being more yellow with braces. I’m sure you’re familiar with most, but some may come as a surprise.
Fear of brushing too hard. When first getting braces, most patients are terrified of accidentally breaking brackets. This keeps them from pressing hard enough when brushing their teeth. If this is you, know that thorough brushing won’t cause brackets to come off. Biting on hard foods, and the angle of biting is what breaks the adhesive.
Using a soft toothbrush. Your teeth may be sensitive right now, or your gums may hurt, but using a manual soft brush won’t help. Instead, it will allow plaque to build and cause even more sensitivity, and cavities. Eventually, your gums will grow over your teeth and braces and this will make them impossible to clean.
Food and drink staining. You’re probably aware that some foods and drinks may stain your teeth, but with braces, it happens even faster. Try to stay away from pigmented foods like berries, dark chocolate, soy sauce, curry, beets, and balsamic vinegar, and staining drinks such as red wine, coffee, tea, and soda. If giving up coffee isn’t an option, try to sip it through a straw.
Bracket staining. It’s no secret that bracket ligatures stain, you’ll discover this in the first month of wearing braces. Unfortunately, ceramic braces stain too, so you need to be extra careful with your choice of foods while wearing them.
Choice of ligature color. Not all braces colors are created equal. Some lighter shades stain much faster than others. But don’t worry, you get to change them every 6 weeks, so you won’t get stuck with yellow elastic ties forever. For a complete guide on which ligature colors to avoid, check this article.
Adhesive staining. Some bonding liquids tend to spread all over the tooth’s surface and harden on top as an invisible thin film. Bonding varnishes can stain and become yellow in time, but not all orthodontists use them, and they come off during professional cleaning.
Smoking. Smoking and chewing tobacco will most definitely cause yellow teeth. But that’s not all, smoking also causes unattractive brown stains, especially where the bracket adhesive comes in contact with your tooth.
What braces make teeth whiter?
If you’re not wearing braces yet but looks are important to you, you’re probably worried about the common yellowing and staining you may see in people with braces. Not to worry, I’m going to list the most aesthetic options, and you can choose which fits your budget:
Lingual braces. They are the only “invisible” option because there are no brackets on the front of your teeth. Thanks to the lingual positioning of your braces, you can easily brush your teeth, whiten them and eat whatever you like. On the downside, lingual braces are expensive and not all orthodontists offer them.
Clear aligners. Clear aligners are the next best thing because you take them off when eating and brushing. However, you’ll still be dealing with attachments – small squares of tooth-colored composite glued to your teeth. These attachments can turn yellow in time, much like a dental filling turns yellow. Hopefully, you’ll be done with your treatment by then.
Self-ligating ceramic braces. Not all cases are suited for aligners or lingual braces. Self-ligating ceramic braces are a great option because they don’t have rubber ties that stain over time. This makes them the most aesthetic option for bonded braces. Not to mention they’re a little faster too. Here’s an entire article on the pros and cons of self-ligating braces.
Conventional ceramic braces with metal ligatures. The worst part about traditional braces is ligature staining, but did you know that you can ask your orthodontist for metal ligatures? These are more discreet and don’t stain, but can potentially poke your cheeks if they’re not secured properly. Another thing to keep in mind is that ceramic braces do stain in time and need more care than regular metal braces.
Are ceramic braces out of your price range? No problem, you can go with traditional metal braces and ask your orthodontist to use metal ligatures. Or you can choose a ligature color that doesn’t stain and enhances your teeth rather than making them more yellow.
What color braces should you avoid?
The elastic ties that hold the archwire in place aren’t meant to last more than 6 to 8 weeks. They tend to lose elasticity and accumulate saliva and food debris. Suffice to say, they’re pretty gross when we take them off.
Choosing the color of your ligatures is arguably the most fun part about braces. Some patients put a lot of thought into this. So if you care about this kind of stuff and want to avoid yellow-looking teeth, here’s what you should know:
How to fix and prevent yellow teeth with braces?
Some people are blessed with white teeth, but most of us average folks need to take extra measures to keep our teeth white and picture-perfect. Those extra measures include trips to the dentist and professional whitening.
While teeth whitening isn’t a good idea when you still have braces on (and we explain why in another article), you can still reach out to your dentist to help you keep your teeth clean and as white as they can be with braces on.
If you’re in braces and your teeth are already yellow from plaque buildup and staining, know that it will be nearly impossible to clean them at home. Bacterial plaque is sticky and needs some extra persistence to scrape it off.
I strongly suggest you start with a clean slate and go to a dental hygienist for a professional cleaning. Dental professionals have much stronger tools (like my favorite, the AirFlow air polishing) that get into all the nooks and crannies. You can actually go to your hygienist as often as every 3 months, there’s no harm in cleaning your teeth professionally on a regular basis.
Now that your teeth are squeaky clean, it’s up to you to keep them that way until your next appointment. Here’s what I suggest you do:
- Brush your teeth after every single meal.
- Limit your snacking or meal frequency.
- Floss thoroughly and use mouthwash.
- Use an electric rotating toothbrush. Here’s a model I use and love.
- Avoid highly staining foods.
- Avoid sticky foods.
- Avoid staining drinks. Use a straw.
- Choose flattering elastic tie colors or
- Go with ceramic or invisible braces.
- Visit your hygienist every 3 months.
Braces and yellow teeth can be a confidence killer. People with braces often try to hide their teeth because they don’t feel good about the way they look. But it doesn’t have to be this way! With a little care, you can have clean, shiny teeth even with braces on.
Whether you’re new to braces or a braces veteran, taking care of your teeth (and your health) during orthodontic treatment is crucial. That’s why I’ve put together a list of orthodontist-recommended tools that will make caring for your braces a breeze: