Discoloured Teeth

Abnormal colouring of the teeth, which may be due to a number of factors

  • More common with increasing age
  • Poor oral hygiene, using tobacco, and drinking coffee and tea are risk factors
  • Gender and genetics are not significant factors

Tooth colour varies among individuals, and secondary teeth are usually darker than primary teeth. Teeth also normally darken slightly with age. However, abnormal discoloration sometimes occurs because of changes within the teeth.

What are the causes?

A common cause of discoloration is the build-up of dental plaque (a deposit of food particles, saliva, and bacteria) on the surface of the teeth. Plaque-stained teeth are often yellowish-brown, but children’s teeth may be black or even green. Regularly drinking tea and coffee and smoking or using chewing tobacco may also stain the surface of the teeth, as may some liquid medicines that contain iron.

Tooth discoloration may also be due to systemic (whole-body) factors, such as severe illness, while the teeth are developing. Some drugs, such as tetracycline (see Antibiotics), can cause a yellow discoloration of the teeth if given to young children while their secondary teeth are developing; if given to a pregnant woman, her baby’s teeth may be discoloured.

Fluorosis, in which the teeth develop a mottled colour, is due to an excess of natural fluoride in the water in some parts of the world. However, where fluoride is added to the water to reduce tooth decay, the concentration is too low to cause fluorosis. Fluorosis may also develop if children are given too high a dose of fluoride drops or pills.

A tooth may become darker than normal following irreversible pulpitis (see Pulpitis), when the soft centre, or the pulp, of the tooth dies. Root canal treatment may cause a tooth to darken if the material used to fill the tooth is dark in colour.

Discoloured teeth

The brown areas of discoloration on this child’s two front teeth have been caused by excess amounts of fluoride. This condition is called fluorosis.

What might be done?

Staining on the surface of the teeth is routinely removed by scaling and polishing of teeth by your dentist or oral hygienist. If staining is severe, it may be possible to bleach the teeth. If a single tooth is discoloured as a result of a condition such as pulpitis or following root canal treatment, a porcelain or plastic veneer may be bonded to the front of the tooth, or alternatively the top of the tooth may be replaced by a crown (see Crowns and replacement teeth).

Most discoloration of teeth can be prevented by brushing and flossing the teeth and gums regularly (see Caring for your teeth and gums).

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

Back to top