Children’s Dental Health: Why Are My Child’s Teeth Yellow?

By JustMommies staff

When your child smiles, does she flash a set of pearly whites? Or, are her teeth various shades of yellow? What causes this tooth discoloration and what can you do about it? Getting to the root of your child's dental issue is the key. Read on to find some causes of tooth discoloration in children.

Dental Woes Can Begin in Infancy

When preoccupied with diaper changing and feedings, you may not be thinking about your baby's dental health. However, what happens during the baby's first year can really make a difference.

For example, if bottle feeding, it's important to avoid filling your baby's bottle with sugary liquids, including juice. Most important, do not put your infant to bed with a bottle as it not only can cause dental caries, but it can also lead to ear infections. If your baby uses a pacifier, be sure that it is never dipped in honey or sugary substances.

The appearance of the first baby teeth (usually around 3-9 months) can be your sign to schedule your baby's first visit to the dentist. Finding a good dentist who specializes in treating children is your first step. You can check the list of recommended dentists through the " Find a Pediatric Dentist" service of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). This service lists contact information for pediatric dentists who are in good standing with the AAPD.

A Brighter Smile Starts with the Dentist

If you are worried about your child's yellowed teeth, the pediatric dentist usually will try to figure out if the yellow staining may be an "internal" health issue or an "external" one. And, the treatment will depend on what is causing the problem to begin with.

Dentists now have advanced treatments to prevent discoloration or to restore a child's bright smile (and even to replace a tooth knocked out during playtime or sports activities).

Sometimes yellow stains may be caused by inconsistent or poor brushing techniques. If baby teeth aren't brushed properly, bacteria (and plaque) might build up - and this can lead to tooth discoloration.

Make sure to use and teach good brushing techniques from the start. Parents have a great chance to influence their child's oral hygiene habits for life. If an effective brushing routine (at least twice a day) is established early, the chances for a healthy smile can greatly improve.

For a baby or toddler, use a child-size toothbrush with soft bristles or the fingertip style created just for infants. Many kid-friendly foods and drinks (and vitamins) have dyes in them that stain teeth, so start encouraging your child to brush after eating. If you don't have a toothbrush and paste on hand after every meal, then encourage your child to rinse out her mouth with water after eating or drinking.

Tooth-Forming Years and Fluoride

Did your child swallow a lot of fluoride in the years that her teeth were forming? While fluoride has been touted as nature's miracle cavity-fighter, too much of a good thing may cause dental woes. It turns out that excess fluoride can interfere with the cells that form enamel-causing a mineralization disorder called fluorosis. It boosts the amount of "sub-surface enamel." This results in a porous tooth surface, which leads to yellowing.

According to some pediatric dentists, parents can check on the amount of fluoride in their water and watch over their children's use of toothpaste to reduce the risk of dental fluorosis and still offer their children the decay prevention benefits of fluoride.

The child needs to use toothpaste with fluoride that has the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. Young children, especially preschoolers, should not swallow toothpaste. Careful supervision is important.

Preventive Steps against Staining

Limit sweet and dyed snacks. Many parents think that fruity snacks are healthier, but these often have dyes or dark pigmentation in them that can stain teeth. Dentists don't like kids to chew on sticky fruit snacks (including raisins) anyway, because they can be just as likely to cause cavities as candy.

Instead of offering sugary fruit roll-ups or bags of colorful, sticky fruit snacks, offer something healthier (yet tasty). Kids need protein, minerals and vitamins to help build healthy teeth that are more resistant to decay. You can offer crunchy, snacks that have calcium and phosphorous, which are helpful for building strong teeth.

Find sound nutrition alternatives in the food pyramid posted on the USDA website. Some healthy snacks shown on USDA's "MyPlate" include vegetables, edamame (soy beans), yogurt, and cheese. Even freeze-dried vegetables or veggie chips are offered in the snack and produce aisles now, so there are more nutritious and tooth-friendly options than ever before.

Stains from Candy and Drinks

Keep a close eye on the treats and beverages your child eats. Treats that have a lot of color pigmentation, like "cool-blue" gum balls, purple soda and soy sauce-can cause yellowing. Some parents and dentists swear by sugar-free gum after a snack to help protect tooth enamel. But be sure it's also free of dye.

Just how much staining occurs? That depends on how often your child has these types of treats, and whether her tooth enamel was still developing when eating these items. Plus, certain healthy fruits and vegetables (for example, apples and potatoes) can stain teeth!

If your child regularly drinks certain red, blue or other bright-colored energy drinks, colorful fruit punches and juices or soft drinks, the dyes in them can stain her teeth.

Medicines that Cause Yellow Teeth

Some medicines are notorious for triggering tooth stains. The antibiotics Doxycycline and Tetracycline have been known to cause yellowing. This staining especially occurs when the teeth are forming (under age 8).

Whether this occurs depends on how long the child was taking the medicine and what parts of the baby's teeth were developing then. These types of stains cannot be removed with conventional methods.

Taking the antibiotic Tetracycline during pregnancy also may cause your newborn to develop discolored baby teeth later. This discoloration can affect several teeth, or make patches and lines.

Antihistamines like Benadryl and others can also create discolored teeth.

Surprisingly, some chewable vitamins and OTC pediatric medicines also contain dyes that can stain your child's teeth. be sure to make sure your child's supplements, pediatric painkillers and cough syrups are "dye-free."

Mouth rinses and washes. Mouthwashes that have cetylpyridinium chloride or chlorhexidine in them may also result in yellow teeth.

When the Cause of Yellow Teeth Is Internal

Some diseases can have a harsh effect on the hard surface of teeth (enamel) or the underlying material (dentin). Not only can the diseases themselves discolor the teeth, but the treatment for them may also stain the teeth. Plus, some infections and treatments in expectant women can result in discolored baby teeth, as they affect the development of the child's tooth enamel.

What about genetics? Sometimes it's just the cards you're dealt-genes can influence whether or not your baby gets stained teeth. Have your pediatrician include a complete family health history at your baby's check-up.

Some things that should be included in your child's check-up:

  • Whether other family members have teeth that are discolored

  • How is your child's overall health?

  • Was your baby born with jaundice or another condition? These can have an effect on the child's teeth.

Thankfully, modern medicine can help solve many of these underlying causes of dental woes. The rest is up to parents and dentists-doing everything possible to bring up a baby with a bright, healthy smile possible.

Some Final Notes about Childhood Dental Health

Don't share eating utensils with your child . You may have undiagnosed gingivitis or other gum disease, and you can pass that on. Such sharing can spread bacteria into the mouth and gums of your baby or child, whose immune system is still developing.

Tooth and gum trauma from injury can also cause staining. Although the tooth discoloration may not be yellow, staining may sometimes occur as a result of injury to the teeth or gums. Your pediatric dentist may be able to help you determine when an injury may be the cause of tooth stains.