Children normally have light-colored teeth ranging in shade from bright white to a creamy ivory. Parents can start to feel a little alarmed if they begin to notice one or more teeth beginning to turn yellow, brown, or gray instead of remaining white.
There are a few reasons for discolored teeth; some of them are actually not concerning, and others indicate a more serious problem. Here’s what parents should know about causes of discoloration and what they can do about it.
Children often need antibiotics in order to fight normal childhood diseases. Strep throat, ear infections, and bacterial pneumonia are common childhood illnesses, and they can be treated with basic antibiotics. The most common medicines prescribed are penicillin based, with names like amoxicillin and phenoxymethylpenicillin.
Fortunately, while these medicines may cause graying while your child is taking them, the staining is usually superficial, and with careful brushing during and after the course of the medication’s administration, your child’s teeth should return to their regular color.
In some rare cases, children may have permanent staining due to the use of tetracycline. Doctors will almost never prescribe this medication for children under 10 years old because it can have a permanent negative effect on the enamel, along with gray, orange, or yellow stains that cannot be removed with normal bleaching.
Staining can occur even when pregnant women use tetracycline or doxycycline. Babies may be born with stained teeth that are brittle and unable to stand up to decay. Your dentist will need to take extensive protective measures, including the use of caps, sealants, and crowns, to restore the teeth.
Another common cause for gray teeth in children is intrinsic discoloration from trauma. Children are clumsy as they learn to walk, run, jump, and climb, often hitting their teeth as they fall or bump into things.
If your child has a hard fall, after which you start to notice that one or two teeth are looking gray, the change is because the bump was severe enough to cause some blood vessels to break and bleed inside the tooth. The blood doesn’t have anywhere to go, so it gets absorbed into the dental tubules inside the tooth. The blood shows through your child’s translucent enamel, making it appear gray or brown.
Sometimes this discoloration resolves as your child heals from the blow. Other times, the discoloration remains until the tooth falls out to be replaced with a permanent tooth.
If your child does experience a sharp blow to the tooth, it’s important you have the tooth examined by the dentist. Sometimes trauma can cause chipping or internal damage. Your child might need further dental care, even if the tooth looks fine to the naked eye.
In rare cases, even if the tooth is not chipped or outwardly damaged, the force of the blow can cause the tooth to slowly die. Parents should watch a gray-colored tooth in the months following the accident just in case it develops an abscess. An abscess is a serious infection that will cause intense pain and swelling, spreading throughout the body if it is not treated.
Children who use inhalers for asthma are at a disadvantage. The medicine is important for helping manage your child’s medical condition, but the treatment can reduce the amount of saliva in the mouth, and over time, continued use can cause staining and decay. Sometimes the stains are yellow, but some children can also develop a gray color on their teeth.
You should be even more diligent with brushing and flossing for children who use inhalers. Encourage your child to rinse out his or her mouth with water frequently throughout the day, and try to limit your child’s exposure to sugary snacks and drinks that will only increase the risk of decay.
Primary teeth are more translucent than adult teeth. While white-colored fillings are becoming the most popular, silver amalgam fillings are still used today. These fillings, especially on front teeth, can make a child’s tooth appear grayer than it otherwise would. Since many parents choose the silver fillings because of their reduced cost (as primary teeth will fall out anyway), this option is something to be aware of.
Finally, gray or brown patches can appear on the teeth because of poor dental hygiene. Some common causes of severe stains in young children include:
- Bottles of milk or juice at night, as sugars from the drinks coat the teeth
- Frequent snacking throughout the day
- Too much soda and other acidic beverages
- Lack of thorough brushing or flossing each day
This last cause of staining is the most preventable. Good dental hygiene in childhood is the foundation for healthy teeth for decades to come.
For more information about tooth discoloration, contact us at Apollo Dental Center. We specialize in family dentistry and childhood dental issues, and we can provide the answers and treatment you need.