Tooth - abnormal colors

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Definition

Abnormal tooth color is any color other than white to yellowish-white.

Alternative Names

Discolored teeth; Tooth discoloration; Tooth pigmentation

Considerations

Many things can cause teeth to become discolored. The change in color may affect the entire tooth, or it may appear as spots or lines in the tooth enamel. Enamel is the hard outer layer of the tooth.

Your genes affect your tooth color. Other things that can affect tooth color include:

  • Diseases that are present at birth
  • Environmental factors
  • Infections

Inherited diseases may affect the thickness of enamel or the calcium or protein content of the enamel. This can cause color changes. Metabolic diseases may cause changes in tooth color and shape.

Drugs and medicines taken by a mother during pregnancy or by a child during the time of tooth development can cause changes in the color and hardness of the enamel.

Causes

Some things that can cause teeth to become discolored are:

  • Antibiotic tetracycline use before age 8
  • Eating or drinking items that temporarily stain the teeth, such as tea or coffee
  • Genetic defects that affect the tooth enamel, such as dentinogenesis and amelogenesis
  • High fever at an age when teeth are forming
  • Poor oral care
  • Porphyria (a group of disorders caused by a buildup of natural chemicals in the body)
  • Severe neonatal jaundice
  • Too much fluoride from environmental sources (natural high water fluoride levels) or overuse of fluoride rinses, toothpaste, and fluoride supplements

Home Care

Good oral hygiene will help if teeth are stained from a food or fluid, or if they are discolored due to poor cleaning.

Talk to your dentist about abnormal tooth color. However, if the color seems to be related to a medical condition, you should talk to your regular health care provider as well.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if:

  • Your teeth are an abnormal color without an apparent cause
  • Abnormal tooth color lasts, even after cleaning your teeth well

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your dentist will examine your teeth and ask about your symptoms. Questions may involve:

  • When the abnormal coloration began
  • Foods you have been eating
  • Medicines you are taking
  • Personal and family health history
  • Exposure to fluoride
  • Oral care habits
  • Other symptoms you may have

Diet-related discoloration and discoloration that is only on the surface may be eliminated with proper oral hygiene or teeth-whitening systems. More severe discoloration may need to be removed using fillings, veneers, or crowns.

Testing may not be necessary in many cases. However, if your provider suspects the discoloration may be related to a medical condition, testing may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Dental x-rays may be taken.

References

Neville BW, Damm DD, Allen CM, Chi AC. Abnormalities of teeth. In: Neville BW, Damm DD, Allen CM, Chi AC, eds. Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2016:chap 2.

Tinanoff N. Development and developmental anomalies of the teeth. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2015:chap 307.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 2/22/2016
  • Michael Kapner, DDS, general and aesthetic dentistry, Norwalk Medical Center, Norwalk, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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