There’s nothing better than seeing a smile on your child’s face. But maybe you’ve noticed your little one’s teeth are looking a bit yellow lately. Don’t worry — there could be several reasons for it.
Anything from poor dental hygiene to genetics may be to blame. And depending on the cause, there are a variety of ways you can help brighten things up.
Here’s more about why your child’s teeth may be discolored, what you can do at home, and when you should speak with your child’s dentist.
Did you know that baby teeth are whiter than adult teeth? It’s true.
As your child grows, they lose their teeth and adult teeth grow in. When this happens, you may see a striking difference between the colors. This is because adult teeth contain more dentin, which makes a tooth look slightly yellow under translucent enamel.
Once all your child’s adult teeth come in, you may not notice this hue quite as much.
Not brushing enough may lead to a collection of plaque on the tooth’s surface, making it look yellow.
Not only that, but food and drink can also discolor teeth. When these substances aren’t brushed away properly day after day, they can lead to buildup and staining.
Tooth decay and cavities can discolor teeth and make them look yellow. You may notice dark spots on teeth with decay. Over time, these spots can lead to holes in the teeth, which are cavities.
If your suspect your child may have these issues, head to your dentist to have them treated as soon as possible to prevent infection of the tooth.
If your child injures their teeth, blood vessels may break and make teeth appear yellow, brown, or gray or black.
After trauma, the capillaries within the teeth can burst and cause blood — more specifically, hemosiderin — to collect in the canals within the teeth. Injury may even affect the tooth enamel itself.
Enamel is what covers the tooth and gives it its white color. Thin tooth enamel, which can be genetic, may cause teeth to look yellow or discolored. Thin tooth enamel may also put your child at risk of tooth decay and other issues.
For very young children, fluorosis may be a concern. This condition happens when baby teeth are exposed to too much fluoride through water, toothpaste, or fortified foods.
Fluorosis can lead to white or brown spots on the teeth, making the surrounding enamel look yellow.
Other supplements may also discolor teeth. Iron, for example, may cause teeth to turn gray or black.
Hepatitis, jaundice, and other medical conditions may also discolor teeth.
So can the use of certain medications during pregnancy or early childhood. For example, tetracycline may cause a young child’s teeth to look bright yellow and older children’s teeth to look brown.
There are some ways you can try to brighten your child’s smile at home. These methods will primarily work in cases where the teeth are stained due to:
- poor brushing habits
- other extrinsic (exterior) causes of discoloration on the tooth’s surface
Good oral hygiene
First things first: Make sure your child is brushing and flossing twice each day.
When they’ve eaten anything sugary or acidic, try to get them to brush within 30 minutes to an hour to further protect enamel.
If they take supplements, like iron, they should brush and rinse well after using them. Children should use a small amount of toothpaste and rinse well to avoid fluorosis.
Consistent brushing and flossing will help keep their teeth clear of plaque and stain-causing substances. Plus, it’ll slowly whiten mild stains over time. You may need to help younger children develop good brushing habits.
Lemon and baking soda
For stains from food and drink or plaque on the tooth’s surface, you might try making a paste from a few drops of lemon juice and baking soda.
Once per week, simply combine the two ingredients and have your child brush their teeth with them. Leave on for 1 or 2 minutes before brushing again, then rinsing well.
Take note, though: While this method is relatively safe, lemon juice is acidic and can damage enamel if used too frequently.
Encourage your child to snack on hard fruits and vegetables — think apples, carrots, celery, and pears. Not only are these foods healthy, but they may also help clean the tooth’s surface when they’re chewed.
Basically, the tough exterior of these foods may scour the teeth and act as a secondary brushing. And some fruits (apples, for instance) contain malic acid — which can be found in different over-the-counter (OTC) whitening kits.
While you’re at it, limit things like sugary drinks and acidic foods. Foods like sour candy, soda, citrus fruits, potato chips, and dried fruits can all damage enamel and discolor teeth.
Related: The 8 worst foods for your teeth
OTC whitening products for older kids
You can also find a little help at your local pharmacy for stains on the surface of teeth. OTC teeth bleaching kits, whitening toothpastes, and other methods are becoming more and more common.
But before you toss a box in your cart, take into consideration your child’s teeth.
Pediatric dentists don’t all agree that OTC kits are a good choice for kids. Those who do say it’s OK recommend waiting until your child has all their adult teeth.
Side effects of using OTC kits may include tooth sensitivity and gum irritation.
When home methods and regular brushing don’t work, you may want to speak with your child’s dentist.
You should also speak with the dentist about staining that’s due to intrinsic issues — meaning discoloration that comes from inside the tooth — or potential cavities.
Your child’s dentist can bleach stains near the surface of the enamel with an etch, bleach, and seal technique. It involves applying a solution of sodium hypochlorite to bleach, then a resin to block out future stains in the enamel.
Many dentists recommend waiting until your child is a teen to have teeth professionally whitened, though your dentist may have different guidelines.
Some children as young as 4 years old have had their teeth bleached, but researchers share that it’s rare for a child under age 6 to be considered a good candidate.
According to a 2015 case report, studies have shown that this approach can be a fast and safe option for older kids and teens with staining due to fluorosis.
Related: Is teeth whitening safe?
Microabrasion with bleach
While similar to standard bleaching, microabrasion with bleach is a bit tougher on the teeth. It’s also more effective on surface stains versus those within the tooth. In this process, your dentist uses chemicals to whiten discolored spots on the teeth.
In particular, this methods works best with dark stains, brown spots, and white spots or discolorations. Most stains can be removed in a single visit. If not, your child’s dentist may recommend other options to cover the tooth itself.
Additional cosmetic dentistry
If teeth are stained from within the surface (due to tetracycline, for example) or don’t respond to bleaching, your dentist may suggest using veneers or bonding to cover the tooth.
With porcelain veneers, a layer of enamel is removed before placing the veneers to allow for a close fit.
Veneers require continual upkeep. For this reason, they may not be the best choice for children. Speak with your dentist to see if veneers are an appropriate choice for your child.
With dental bonding, resin is applied to the surface of the tooth (almost like nail polish). Once hard, it’s buffed and shaped to look like a normal tooth.
Along with covering up discoloration, bonding can be used to cover damaged teeth — and dentists do apply bonding to children for this reason.
Bonding works best on teeth that don’t take the brunt of force when eating or biting, so it can be a good choice for front teeth. Like veneers, bonding doesn’t hold up indefinitely.
Again, some types of tooth discoloration may not respond well to home or even professional care. These include discoloration due to intrinsic causes, like:
- certain medical conditions
- exposure to certain drugs, like tetracycline
In these case, the tooth’s color is affected from inside the tooth — so it’s not a matter of just brushing better or bleaching the tooth’s surface.
Brushing and flossing regularly is the best method of prevention for stains and plaque that collect on the surface of teeth. You can encourage good dental hygiene by:
- Model good habits yourself. Make brushing and flossing a family affair — twice each day.
- Set a timer to ensure your child is brushing long enough. Some toothbrushes may come with special features that do this for you. Otherwise, the magic number you want to hit is 2 minutes. As you can imagine, you may need to help your child reach this goal.
- Eat a diet that’s rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Starches and sugars can be bad for enamel. So, if you do eat foods that aren’t super tooth-friendly, encourage your little one to brush afterward.
- Reward good habits. Consider making a sticker chart to applaud brushing progress or even win a small prize. Other kids may be motivated by choosing toothbrushes or toothpaste that features their favorite characters.
Speak with older children and teens about their insecurities with their teeth. If they say bleaching would help them feel more confident, consider scheduling a consultation with your dentist or asking if home bleaching kits would be safe to use on your child’s teeth.
Whether you’re dealing with yellow or white, baby teeth or adult teeth — be sure to keep up with your child’s dental checkups.
Twice a year is the recommendation to keep tartar at bay and any other concerns, like cavities, monitored and treated.