You could see yellow stains, brown stains, or even the temporary stain from eating brightly colored candy, but what about when the stain is white? Where do those white spots come from, and is there anything we can do about it?
Surface stains that affect the tooth enamel sometimes appear on a tooth that is otherwise healthy. One cause of this kind of stain is fluorosis. Fluorosis occurs when developing adult teeth are exposed to too much fluoride. It doesn’t damage the teeth, but it does unevenly bleach them, leaving white spots on them before they even grow in.
To avoid white spots from fluorosis, make sure to limit the amount of fluoride toothpaste you use when brushing your child’s teeth. A tiny smear (no bigger than a grain of rice) is sufficient for babies and toddlers, and a pea-sized dab is the most you should use for a young child. When they begin brushing their own teeth, encourage them to continue going easy on the toothpaste.
A more harmful cause of white spots is demineralization. Demineralization is the gradual leaching of crucial minerals like calcium from the tooth enamel. Plaque buildup and acid exposure over time lead to demineralization, and people with braces are particularly susceptible to it.
Preventing demineralization is all about good brushing and flossing habits, as well as regular dental visits. We all should be brushing for two minutes twice a day and flossing daily, and orthodontic patients should take extra care to clean away all the food residue and plaque around the brackets to avoid white spots when the braces come off.
For an unlucky minority, white spots don’t come from demineralization or fluorosis, but from enamel hypoplasia, a condition that leaves the teeth with thinner enamel than usual and therefore more vulnerable to stains and decay. Causes of enamel hypoplasia in a child’s teeth include the mother smoking while pregnant, malnutrition, and premature birth.
It’s always better to prevent white spots from developing to begin with, but if they do appear, there are a few ways to treat them, such as microabrasion and bleaching. With microabrasion, a thin layer of enamel is scraped away to restore the tooth’s uniform appearance. Whitening treatments can improve the results of microabrasion even more, or it can be its own solution, as with bleaching. If you choose the bleaching route, we recommend professional whitening, whether in the dentist’s office or using a dentist-approved home whitening kit, for the best possible results.
Not all stains can be removed with these methods, and in these cases, veneers are an excellent option. The way these work is that the dentist attaches thin pieces of porcelain to the teeth, for a natural, uniform, white appearance.
If white spots on your teeth have been bothering you and making you less confident in your smile, come see us so that we can determine the best solution. We want all our patients to be able to share their smiles freely!
Top image by Flickr user Matteo Martinello used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.