The desire for white teeth is linked to the widely-held notion that a person’s smile is one of their best assets. So it’s normal to be concerned if you notice your child’s teeth are more yellow than white. In children, tooth discoloration can be explained by several factors, including internal factors related to the tooth enamel, trauma or medications that affect tooth composition, or external factors such as tooth staining or poor cleaning habits. Since the treatment of yellow teeth depends on the cause, a valuable first step is to address your concerns with your child’s dentist.
The Natural Color of Teeth
If your child has both baby and permanent teeth in his mouth, you may notice a significant color difference between these teeth. The enamel, or outer layer of permanent teeth is semi-translucent, which means some of the yellowish dentin that makes up the inner tooth tissue shows through. In contrast, the baby teeth have less dentin and appear more white. So by nature, permanent teeth are more yellow in color, and to some extent this is normal and expected.
Foods and Beverages
What your child eats and drinks can stain the teeth -- sometimes causing yellow stains. According to a review published in the March 2001 issue of “British Dental Journal,” the polyphenols in food, which provide the natural pigments, can stain the enamel. Foods and beverages that are highly pigmented, such as blueberries, cherries, coffee or tea can result in staining -- especially with regular exposure. Foods or beverages that weaken the enamel, such as soft drinks, can also make the teeth more susceptible to staining. It is a good idea to have your child rinse his mouth with water after consuming heavily pigmented foods or soft drinks.
Not brushing and flossing regularly in order to remove plaque and staining substances can cause teeth to discolor and appear yellow. Your child should brush his teeth twice a day, floss once a day, and rinse his mouth after eating or drinking foods that may cause stains. This daily care, along with a professional cleaning at least every 6 months, will help minimize yellowing or staining of teeth.
Teeth are more susceptible to decay and discoloration if the enamel is thin or not properly formed. The yellowish dentin in the inner tooth tissue will show through thin enamel, making teeth look more discolored. Also, trauma to the teeth can damage the enamel, or bleeding inside the tooth can cause the dentin to darken. Genetic disorders, certain illnesses or poor nutrition prior to birth or during childhood can cause a child’s teeth to lack the enamel needed to protect the teeth from decay and stains.
Certain medications be also be related to yellowing of teeth. Chemotherapy during childhood may compromise the composition of the teeth, causing thin enamel. The tetracycline class of antibiotics is commonly linked with tooth discoloration, particular if used during pregnancy or early childhood. However, a small study published in the May 2015 “Journal of Pediatrics” failed to show dental staining in children who received less than 2 short courses of doxycycline, a member of this drug class, before the age of 8. Fluorosis, a condition linked to excessive fluoride exposure during the tooth-forming years, is characterized by low mineralization of the teeth and commonly blamed for discoloration of teeth. While fluorosis typically causes white patches, streaks or spots on the teeth, yellowing may also occur.
If you have concerns about the color of your child’s teeth, speak with your dentist. Avoid using home whitening products on children without first consulting your dental professional.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
- British Dental Journal:Tooth Discolouration and Staining: A Review of the Literature
- Canadian Dental Association: Dental Development
- Journal of Zhejiang University Science: Dental Erosion and Severe Tooth Decay Related to Soft Drinks: A Case Report and Literature Review*
- Journal of Pediatrics: No Visible Dental Staining in Children Treated with Doxycycline for Suspected Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever