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Many of us know the common causes of discolored teeth in adults, but children can also end up with yellow teeth. There are many potential causes of yellow teeth in children, and they can be either intrinsic (internal) or extrinsic (external). If your child has yellow teeth, you might be interested in figuring out why and what can be done about it.
The most common cause of yellow teeth is external. Children’s teeth can be yellowed for many of the same reasons adult children end up discolored, as well as some reasons adults might not encounter.
- Food and drink – plenty of foods can cause staining of the outer layer of the teeth, which are incorporated into the tooth pellicle (tooth film). For adults, this normally takes the form of coffee stains. For children, it could be any number of the things they consume. Combined with the bad brushing habits common in small children, and you can end up with this problem before you know it.
- Chemicals and supplements – iron supplements and other metallic salts are a common cause of tooth staining in children. So are some types of antiseptics used in toothpastes, lozenges, throat sprays, and more. A common ingredient (chlorhexidine) used for removing plaque from teeth causes temporary discoloration that can be removed by a dental hygienist.
These types of discoloration can be somewhat avoided with good oral hygiene habits and regular trips to the dentist.
Other forms of tooth discoloration aren’t so easily avoided or treated.
- Congenital disorders – there are plenty of conditions a child can have that can cause discolored teeth, from metabolic disorders to dentin defects to enamel hypoplasia. Sometimes this type of tooth discoloration can be inherited or the discoloration can be a symptom of something else. In some cases, the teeth aren’t yellow but are brown, red, or other colors.
- Tetracycline – antibiotics in the tetracycline family can cause yellow or gray-brown discoloration in teeth. Women on tetracycline are discouraged from getting pregnant because of the bone defects it can cause, but the risk doesn’t end at birth. Children should avoid being exposed to tetracycline until about 7 years of age to avoid complications showing up in their teeth. If exposure happens after bones develop, the effects are far more mild, but do involve discoloration.
- Trauma – trauma can cause tooth discoloration if there is capillary breakage inside the tooth. When capillaries burst, it allows something called hemosiderin to leak into the canals inside teeth.
Intrinsic forms of discoloration are more difficult to treat, as the discoloration comes from further inside the tooth instead of just on the surface.
Treatment for Discolored Teeth
Some types of tooth staining can be treated via whitening strips or something called Vital Bleaching, in which hydrogen peroxide-based treatments are applied to the teeth and then special lights can be applied to accelerate it. These types of treatments are usually reserved for mild and uniform discolorations of teeth. If your dentist recommends these types of tooth whitening, they’ll base the proper course of action not only on your child’s age and ability to handle the treatment, but also on the condition of the teeth and staining themselves.
These types of treatment are reserved for surface discoloration, and do have the side effect of temporary increased sensitivity in teeth.
For intrinsic discolorations, there are other techniques that can be used. These include the “etch, bleach, and seal” technique which removes stains that are still near the surface, “microabrasion with dental bleaching” which is a bit harsher, or, if these treatments won’t be enough to lighten the teeth, such as in the case of deep tetracycline stains, composite veneers, which go over the fronts of the teeth and require the removal of a layer of enamel, might be suggested.
Veneers don’t last forever, so if you’re looking at veneers as an option, you might want to consider whether your child will be able to continue their upkeep as an adult to avoid further complications. Sometimes whitening is only a minor cosmetic concern and drastic actions to make the teeth look white can cause more harm in the long run.
If you’re considering tooth whitening for your child, it’s important to speak with your dentist about how uncomfortable the treatment is, how much it costs, and how effective it will be at eliminating the problem.