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Tooth - abnormal colors

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 tooth discoloration. The change in color may affect the entire tooth, or appear as spots or lines in the tooth enamel.

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

  • Congenital diseases
  • 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 either taken by the mother during pregnancy or by the child during the time of tooth development can cause changes in the color and hardness of the enamel.

Common Causes

  • 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
  • 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 the teeth are stained from a food or fluid, or 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 health care provider if:

  • Teeth appear to be an abnormal color without cause
  • Abnormal tooth color lasts, even after cleaning the teeth well

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The dentist will examine the teeth and ask questions about the symptoms. Questions may involve:

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

Superficial and diet-related discoloration may be eliminated with proper hygienic treatment or teeth-whitening systems. More profound discoloration may need to be removed using fillings, veneers or crowns.

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

Dental x-rays may be taken.

References

Tinanoff N. Development and developmental anomalies of the teeth. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 299.

Updated: 2/25/2014

Ilona Fotek, DMD, MS, Palm Beach Prosthodontics Dental Associates, West Palm Beach, FL. 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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