By: By: Dr. Rahat Aisha Yasmeen, Freelance Health Writer and Datelinehealth Africa (DLHA) volunteer. Medically reviewed by the DLHA Team.
Figure 1: Visible color difference with teeth whitening products
Yellow teeth/Grey teeth/ brown teeth – do they exist? Yes they do (see figure 1).
We tend to relate teeth with various shades of whites but at some point we do encounter ‘yellow teeth’ ‘black stains’ or ‘brown deposits’ in our smiles.
This blog aims to highlight some common causes of teeth discolouration in Africans and what you can do to prevent and manage it.
A variety of factors contribute to gradual darkening of teeth. These include:
Artificial pigments such as brown or orange color in most popular aerated drinks coat teeth and over time appear as brown stains. Cold drinks along with their acidic nature also erode enamel layer which is the main protective layer of teeth. Some natural flavors such as chili, turmeric, saffron, wine, caffeine etc. are responsible for causing stains too. So do tomato-based sauces and soy sauces. The pigments contained in these foods, drinks and sauces mostly bind to the plaque covering the tooth surface, thus becoming more resistant in nature. Increase in frequency of consumption of colored food items, coffee, tea and inadequate brushing makes the condition worse.
A variety of nuts that cause teeth discolouration are consumed extensively in regions of Africa like West Africa.
An example of such nuts is kola nut (see figure 2). This is a caffeine containing nut of Cola acuminata and Cola nitida trees of the cocoa famiy (Stercullaceae). Kola nuts is regularly consumed in West Africa as a stimulant, as well as for ceremonial purposes. Long term use of kola nuts coupled with poor dental hygeine result in yellowish -brown discolouration of the teeth as well as non-carious dental tooth wear (attrition). 
Figure 2: Kola nut
Smoke from tobacco releases compounds that are notorious to break down in oral cavity. Compounds such as tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide, arsenic, hydrogen cyanide etc. not only build around the teeth as tar deposits but also mix with the saliva and cause bad breath.
E- Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco devices are becoming popular as an alternative to traditional use; however they have certain risk factors too. According to a recent study, chemicals in electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) increase the susceptibility to tooth decay and increase the risk of periodontal disease, peri-implant, and oral mucosal lesions. 
Fluoride is essential for strengthening the enamel and is anti-cariogenic in nature. However, excess fluoride in water can cause fluorosis and resultant dental fluorosis as white spots on teeth. Dental fluorosis can appear as mild to severe discolourations, these spots can be whitish, yellowish or brown depending on the fluoride concentration.
The use of certain medications, drugs and presence of illness can also trigger teeth discolorations.
With advancement in dentistry, there are many options available in the market to correct the unpleasant discolourations on teeth. Treatments can range from personal whitening procedures to professional teeth bleaching based on the severity of discolouration and condition of oral cavity.
Figure 3: Pre-loaded gel dental trays are easy and convenient to use at home.
Figure 4: Hydrogen peroxide gets activated by LED via photochemical reaction on the enamel layer, thus removing stains.
With growing popularity of social media and fancy DIY promotions, it is easier to follow tricks and tips off the internet. However, temptation for quick and easy routes can do more harm than good.
Tooth pastes and mouthwashes are safer to experiment while other whitening options such as gels/strips/trays with active ingredients should be used cautiously and as advised by dentists.
Maintenance of post whitening teeth procedure depends on regular cleaning every 6-12 months. So plan your visits at appropriate intervals to keep your smile shining (figure 5).
Figure 5: Patient during regular cleaning appointment.
Keep your habits such as tobacco smoking , excess caffeine intake or use of more colored food products to minimal as they will significantly reduce the achieved results.
If you suffer with teeth or gum sensitivity, be cautious of the risks while using at home whitening kits. Seeking professional help to select appropriate products for particular issues would be the best way.
Read about the active ingredients and composition of teeth whitening kits before use, informed decision will reduce the risk of side effects and allergic reactions.
6. Brush and floss your teeth regularly
Healthy smile is the best smile! Achieving a dazzling smile is only possible when you have healthy teeth and gums; so keep up with your regular brushing and flossing.
To ensure a safe and effective teeth whitening treatment, it is strongly advised to seek guidance from a dentist. Consulting with a professional helps in understanding the best options available and setting realistic expectations for each case. Teeth whitening are dependent on many factors beginning from causative agents, risks, selection of best products and optimal maintenance. A beautiful smile often boosts self-confidence and self-esteem. It can positively impact social interactions, professional opportunities, promoting feelings of happiness and reducing stress. So keep smiling!
1. Agbor A, Bissong M, Tembe-Fokunang E, Eyong C, Kourouma K., Fokunang C. Evaluation of the Antimicrobial Potentials and Adverse Effect of Kolanut (Kola nitida Malvaceae) on the Oral Cavity and the Impact on Cariogenic Bacteria: A Socio-Demographic Study. Journal of Advances in Medical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2019 March 20; 20(1) p. 1-11. doi: 10.9734/jamps/2019/v20i130102.
2. Zhang Q, Wen C. The risk profile of electronic nicotine delivery systems, compared to traditional cigarettes, on oral disease: a review. Front Public Health. 2023 May 15;11:1146949. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2023.1146949. Available from:
Published: December 28, 2023
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