As a parent, it can be extremely alarming to notice that one of your child's "pearly whites" is suddenly a color that is not-so-white. While children's teeth can stain temporarily from the foods they eat and beverages they drink, you know that foods and drinks don't cause one tooth (or several) to change color and stay that way. It can be difficult to find out what happened from a young child just learning to talk or an older child who just doesn't remember, so here is a guide to what may have caused your child's tooth to change color, what to do about it, and how to prevent future discolorations in their baby and permanent teeth.
Get to the Root of the Color Change by Examining the Tooth
You can follow the guidelines dentists use for determining the cause of a discolored tooth in a child when your he or she simply cannot tell you what happened. The odds are that some type of small accident caused injury to the tooth if it is a shade of red, pink, brown or gray. That means that you want to also inspect your child for other facial injury near the tooth that you may not have noticed.
Once you have inspected your child's face and head to make sure there are no other injuries, bumps, or bruises, you can determine when the injury occurred based on the tooth color:
- Pink or red tooth. This signals a recent injury (within the last few hours to a couple of weeks ago) that injured the pulp of your child's tooth. The redness you see is fresh blood from the blood vessels in the pulp working its way through the tiny channels in the tooth.
- Brown or gray tooth. These colors, or any other dark, dingy color, signals an accident that occurred over two weeks ago that also damaged the pulp. The dark color you see now is the oxidized blood that appears dark due to the iron in it.
While some children's teeth do turn pink or red right after injury then progress to a dark color weeks later, don't feel guilty and think you somehow didn't notice that your child's tooth was red for two weeks and you didn't notice. All children and all teeth heal differently depending on the type and extent of injury, so your child's tooth may not have appeared red at all before it became dark.
When you first realize your child's tooth has changed color, it is important to contact your pediatric dentist to schedule a full dental examination. Your dentist needs to not only examine the tooth to determine what the best treatment plan is for it, but your child may have experienced other tooth or mouth damage that your dentist can check for during the appointment.
What to Expect at the Dentist
When you arrive for your child's dental check-up, their dentist will determine the extent of the tooth injury and check for damage in neighboring teeth and the rest of your child's mouth that may not be immediately visible. If the injury is suspected to affect the adult tooth growing underneath the primary tooth, then dental x-rays will likely be taken. The good news is that if the damage is found to be only in the primary tooth and your child is not in pain, then he or she will likely recommend that the tooth be left alone and allowed to heal and eventually fall out on its own. The discoloration may or may not go away during this time.
If your child is under the age of three, then there is a higher chance that the damage to the baby tooth may lead to a condition called Enamel Hypoplasia in the still-developing adult tooth underneath it. This occurs when the inflamed dental pulp after an injury to a baby tooth causes damage to the enamel of the adult tooth underneath it. Your dentist may opt to extract the injured baby tooth if they think that it can prevent this condition in the permanent tooth below it. There are easy ways to correct the appearance of the adult tooth if it does emerge with enamel hypoplasia, and repairing the tooth with composite resin bonding is one option.
If your child's primary tooth has turned red, pink, brown, or gray, then realize it is a signal that the pulp may have suffered damage due to an accident. While you should not panic, if your child otherwise seems healthy, it is important to take your child to the dentist for an examination of their entire mouth and to discuss treatment options for the tooth and whether it may affect your child's permanent tooth development.