My child's baby teeth seem discolored. Should I be worried?
Answer From Cindy Zhou, D.M.D., M.S.
Baby teeth, also called primary teeth, are typically whiter than adult permanent teeth because they are more calcified. Baby teeth can become discolored for many reasons, including:
- Inadequate brushing. If baby teeth aren't brushed properly, bacteria (plaque) might form on the teeth — which can lead to tooth discoloration.
- Medication use. Infant medications containing iron, such as supplemental vitamins, might cause stains on baby teeth. Taking the antibiotic tetracycline during pregnancy or breast-feeding can cause a child to have discolored baby teeth, too.
- Tooth injury. A single dark tooth could be the result of bleeding within the tooth due to dental trauma.
- Weak enamel. A genetic problem with enamel formation might lead to discolored baby teeth.
- Excessive fluoride. Regularly mixing powdered or liquid concentrate infant formula with fluoridated water might increase your child's risk of developing faint white lines or streaks on the teeth (fluorosis) if these kinds of formula are your child's main source of food.
- Illness. Some children might develop baby teeth with a green or yellow hue if they are born with a condition in which there is too much bilirubin in the blood (hyperbilirubinemia).
If the discoloration is caused by poor dental hygiene, more thorough brushing might help. Until your child learns to spit — at about age 3 — use a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than the size of a grain of rice.
To keep your child's mouth healthy, avoid filling your child's bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks and don't put him or her to bed with a bottle. Also, don't share eating utensils with your child. This can spread cavity-causing bacteria. If your child uses a pacifier, never dip it in honey or sugar.
Discuss your concerns about your child's baby teeth with his or her doctor. He or she might refer you to a pediatric dentist. After addressing any underlying issues, the dentist might recommend bleaching the discolored teeth later on or simply watching the teeth for signs of other problems.
Cindy Zhou, D.M.D., M.S.
Feb. 25, 2022
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See more Expert Answers
- Wright JT. Developmental defects of the teeth. http://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Sept. 24, 2021.
- Fluorosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/faqs/dental_fluorosis/index.htm. Accessed Sept. 24, 2021.
- Berkowitz CD. Oral health and dental disorders. In: Berkowitz's Pediatrics: A Primary Care Approach. 6th ed. Kindle edition. American Academy of Pediatrics; 2020. Accessed Sept. 24, 2021.
- Zhou MX (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Oct. 22, 2021.
- Dean JA. Acquired developmental disturbances of the teeth and associated oral structures. In: Dentistry for the Child and Adolescent. 11th ed. Elsevier; 2022. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Sept. 24, 2021.
- Gandhi RP, et al. Oral medicine & dentistry. In: Current Diagnosis & Treatment Pediatrics 2020-21. 25th ed. McGraw Hill; 2021. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Sept. 24, 2021.
- Policy on the use of dental bleaching for child and adolescent patients. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. https://www.aapd.org/globalassets/media/policies_guidelines/p_bleaching.pdf?v=new. Accessed Sept. 27, 2021.