Overview

Taking care of your gums and teeth help you avoid tooth decay and bad breath. It also helps keep gum disease at bay. An important part of good oral hygiene is avoiding, and being on the lookout for, brown spots on teeth.

Brown spots on your teeth can be noticeable or subtle. They range in shade from almost yellow to dark brown. Some brown spots look like mottled patches, and others look like lines. They can be irregular in shape or almost uniform.

Brown spots are often a sign of poor oral hygiene. They may also signal health concerns, such as celiac disease.

What causes brown spots on teeth

Brown spots, as well as other discolorations, have multiple causes. They include:

Nicotine

Tobacco is a common cause of surface stains on teeth. Nicotine is found in tobacco products, such as:

  • chewing tobacco
  • cigarettes
  • pipe tobacco
  • cigars

Foods and beverages

Tooth discolorations, including brown, gray, and yellow spots, can be caused by what you eat and drink, such as:

  • coffee
  • tea
  • red wine
  • cola
  • blueberries
  • blackberries
  • pomegranates

Tooth decay

When tooth enamel, the hard, outer layer of your teeth, starts to erode, tooth decay results. Bacteria-filled plaque is constantly forming on your teeth. When you eat foods containing sugar, bacteria produce acid. If plaque isn’t brushed off teeth regularly, the acid breaks down tooth enamel. This results in brown stains and cavities.

Tooth decay can range in severity. When left untreated, it’s a common cause of brown spots on teeth.

Tartar

When you don’t remove plaque regularly, it can harden, turning into tartar. Tartar can range in color from yellow to brown, and it appears along the gum line.

Fluorosis

Fluoride in water protects teeth, but too much can cause dental fluorosis. This usually occurs in children while their teeth are forming, below the gum line.

Fluorosis is generally mild and takes on the appearance of white, lacy markings. When it’s severe, the tooth enamel becomes pitted, and brown spots appear. Severe fluorosis is a rare occurrence.

Enamel hypoplasia

Genetic or environmental factors can sometimes cause teeth to have less enamel than they need. This is known as enamel hypoplasia. It can be caused by vitamin deficiencies, maternal illness, or malnutrition during pregnancy, exposure to toxins, and other factors. Enamel hypoplasia can affect one or more teeth, and often appears as rough-textured, brown or yellow spots.

Root canal

When the pulp of one of your teeth dies, you’ll need a root canal. A tooth that requires this procedure may turn brown and stay brown. This is because the dead root has darkened, permeating the tooth.

Trauma

Trauma to your mouth can cause damage within a tooth’s nerve. This can result in the tooth getting brown spots or turning brown completely.

Old dental work

Deteriorating dental work, such as metal, silver, or white fillings, can stain teeth over time. White fillings can also acquire surface stains, making the tooth look brown.

Medications

Antibiotics, such as tetracycline and doxycycline (Monodox, Doryx), can stain teeth. This is most likely to occur in children who have teeth that are still developing. It can also be caused in children if their mothers took these medications during pregnancy. Glibenclamide (Glynase), a medication used for permanent neonatal diabetes mellitus, may also cause brown spots on teeth.

Chlorhexidine mouth wash

This prescription mouth rinse treats gum disease. A potential side effect is brown spots on teeth.

Celiac disease

Dental enamel defects, including brown spots on teeth, are sometimes caused by celiac disease. Brown spots on teeth are common among people with this condition, especially children.

Aging

As people age, their teeth may darken or get spotty. This can be caused by a combination of factors that compound over time, such as:

  • surface staining from food, drink, or tobacco
  • darkening dentin, which is a substance that surrounds each tooth and comprises the layer underneath tooth enamel
  • thinning enamel

Genetics

Tooth color varies from person to person, and may be genetic. Some people naturally have very white teeth and others slightly yellow or beige teeth. There are also genetic disorders, such as dentinogenesis imperfecta, that cause brown spots on teeth.

Symptoms to look for

Brown spots on teeth can be an early warning sign of cavities, which require a dentist to fix. They may be accompanied by symptoms such as tooth pain, sensitivity, or bad breath.

If tooth decay becomes severe, it may lead to gingivitis. If brown spots are accompanied by gums that bleed or feel sore consistently, see a dentist.

In people with celiac disease, oral symptoms may include dry mouth, canker sores, or mouth ulcers. The tongue may appear very red, smooth, and shiny. There may also be evidence of squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, in the mouth or pharynx.

People with enamel hypoplasia may have a rough texture on or pitted areas in their teeth.

Treating brown spots on teeth

Enamel hypoplasia may be stopped with good oral hygiene. Sealing or bonding teeth may protect the teeth from wear and tear. These procedures may be permanent or semi-permanent.

At-home whitening treatments may be effective on surface stains. Not all tooth discolorations respond to whitening treatments, however. So before you try one, talk to your dentist.

At-home treatments include whitening toothpastes, bleaching kits, and whitening strips. It’s important to follow the instructions on these products so that you use them effectively.

Whiteners aren’t permanent. They should be used consistently to get the best results. But don’t overuse them, because they may thin tooth enamel.

Make sure to use products with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance.

Professional whitening procedures can be very effective at removing brown spots. They sometimes require several visits to a dentist’s office.

Results from in-office procedures usually last around three years. Good oral hygiene habits may prolong your results. Poor habits, such as smoking, will cause your teeth to brown more quickly.

Types of procedures include:

  • dental prophylaxis, which involves dental cleaning and preventive treatment
  • chairside whitening
  • power bleaching
  • porcelain veneers
  • composite bonding

Preventing brown spots on teeth

Taking care of your teeth will help keep them bright, white, and spot-free. Brush after each meal, and floss daily.

One of the best things you can do to keep your teeth (and the rest of you) healthy is to stop smoking.

It’s also important to watch what you eat and drink. Always brush after eating or drinking things that stain teeth. And make sure to add calcium-rich foods to your diet. Calcium can help you avoid enamel erosion.

Avoid sugary foods and drinks, such as hard candies, soda, and desserts. Simple carbohydrates, such as potato chips and white bread, turn into sugars in your body, so you should also avoid them.