Why Is My Tooth Turning Black?

You may be surprised but there are a variety of factors which can make your tooth turn black. Some of them are easily rectifiable while others would require more complicated treatment. That of course all depends on why the tooth has become black.


This article will go over what may potentially cause your tooth to discolor in such a way and what the potential fixes are. It'll give you an idea of what to expect when you go to your dentist appointment.


Surely, you weren't thinking that you could simply fix this with a home remedy did you? Unfortunately, most of the treatment do require the help of a professional dentist.



What a black tooth could mean:



Tooth decay and cavities

Small cavities usually start off as a light brown color but when it is left untreated it could start turning the tooth black. As it progresses through the stages of tooth decay it changes from a light brown to a dark brown and then finally to the color black.


Here is a picture of an early small cavity on the chewing surface of the molar. The color is brownish in color.


early cavity on chewing surface of molar

When left untreated, it will progress into a medium sized cavity. Here is a photo of it when it has gotten bigger and as you can see, it has become a lot more brown in color.


medium sized cavity that is dark brown

If you ignore the decay and let it grow even bigger, it will become very dark and look like you have a black tooth. Here is a picture of a very large cavity on a wisdom tooth that looks black.


large cavity that looks black

Therefore if your tooth looks black, it could very well have large decay in it. It has most likely progressed towards the later stages of decay. In fact, it may already be into the nerve which means that a simple cavity filling would be insufficient to treat it.



How to fix a black tooth from decay

Small cavities can be treated with dental fillings but decay that is large enough to turn the tooth black will require more than that. Since late stage cavities are usually into the nerve, it means that the tooth will require nerve treatment, otherwise known as a root canal.


The root canal procedure will separate the nerve from the tooth. The good news is that it leaves the tooth intact unlike an extraction which removes the entire tooth completely.


This is what to expect for a root canal procedure:

  1. Administer local anesthesia.

  2. Excavate decay.

  3. Remove nerve.

  4. Clean out canals and entire tooth.

  5. Fill in canal with filling material.

  6. Place temporary filling inside tooth.




Dead tooth from trauma or injury

A tooth that has sustained trauma can potentially slowly die over the course of many years. Slowly over time you'll notice the tooth start turning more yellow and then become grey. If you wait long enough the tooth will start looking black.


Dead tooth starting to turn yellow
Dead tooth starting to turn yellow

The picture above shows a tooth in the early stages of dying where it has become darker than the adjacent teeth. It definitely looks more "yellow" than the ones next to it.


If you wait long enough, that dark yellow will slowly What are rel attributes for backlinks?

become more "black" looking. Usually if we see a black tooth it means that the tooth has probably been dead for at least a decade if not more. Here is a picture of what a dead tooth looks like below.


Black tooth that is dead
Black tooth that is dead

How to fix a black tooth that is dead

For a dead tooth which looks completely black, it will require a combination of treatments to get rid of the darkness. The reason is because if you simply try to put a veneer over it to cover it up, the black from underneath could show through the thin delicate porcelain.


In order to make it more successful, you should whiten the tooth internally first but that would require the tooth to have had a root canal on it. This means you need to finish removing the nerve and then try to whiten it from the inside out.


Internal whitening is different from external whitening which is what you're probably thinking of to get yellow teeth white. The external whitening only whitens the outer layer of enamel. That is simply not sufficient for a black tooth because the discoloration is coming from WITHIN the tooth.


It is only after you are done with bleaching the tooth from inside out that you can put a veneer on it to mask the color. The combination of internal whitening along with the veneer will increase the chances of you having a good cosmetic outcome.




Stains from coffee, tea, and other foods

Coffee and tea are notorious for staining your teeth. The stains from these beverages will usually leave black spots or splotches of black dots all along the gum line. Patients often mistake this type of staining for a cavity because they're seeing black spots on their teeth.


light black spots on teeth from staining
light black spots on teeth from staining

The photo above is of a mild case of black spots all over the teeth due to staining. If the patient does not go in for their dental cleaning to get it removed, the splotches of black can grow more severe.


moderate black staining on teeth
moderate black staining on teeth

For the risk takers and those who like living life on the edge... if they leave the moderate amount of black staining untreated, it can progress even further. The black can nearly completely cover the teeth such as in the picture below!


severe black staining on teeth
severe black staining on teeth

When the tooth looks black like that it can easily be mistaken as a cavity. In our opinion, even if you don't care about the cosmetics you should still try to get that fixed. Your significant other will encourage you to do so as well.



How to fix black teeth that are stained

Since the black tooth is from external or extrinsic staining due to coffee or tea, it can be easily removed with a dental cleaning. This means that you should schedule an appointment with your dentist, for your routine check up and cleaning.


All of that black staining should come off during the cleaning. You may be surprised at the color of your natural teeth after the appointment. You probably didn't know how much whiter your teeth could get.




Tobacco

Everyone knows that smoking is not good for your health nor is it good for your teeth. The tar from the tobacco is notorious for yellowing your teeth and turning them black


Studies have shown definitive proof that the tar from tobacco will discolor your teeth. In addition to your natural enamel, it'll also stain the dental restorations such as fillings in your mouth! Imagine if you had a mouth full of veneers, you probably wouldn't want to smoke very often because you may ruin them.



How to fix black teeth from tobacco staining

The first thing you need to do is quit smoking so that it doesn't get worse. After that you should get a teeth cleaning and probably also some whitening to make up for some lost ground.


As long as you keep up with your six month dental check ups and periodic teeth whitening, you should be able to prevent the black stains from coming back.




Medication

There is one particular medication that will darken your teeth in a very distinct way by leaving streaks of black marks across them. That medication is called tetracycline and there has been numerous studies about their tooth discoloration capabilities.



tetracycline staining

The worse part of tetracycline staining is that the black appearance is more than extrinsic staining because it also stains the tooth from the inside out. This makes it incredibly difficult to try to whiten the teeth just via external means.



How to fix a black tooth that is stained by tetracycline

The only way to completely get rid of the stains caused by tetracycline would be a combination of teeth whitening along with porcelain veneers.

  • Teeth whitening. You must first whiten the tooth first so that the black tooth structure does not show through the thin piece of porcelain in the veneers.

  • Veneers. The veneers come after the whitening in order to fully mask the color.


This definitely won't be a cheap fix because the tetracycline usually stains all of the teeth. You'll be needing veneers to cover up all of them. We would recommend patient financing for larger treatment cases such as this.




Black tartar from inadequate oral hygiene

Plaque that does not get removed will eventually harden into a calcified substance called tartar. The interesting thing about tartar (calculus) is that they can pick up a LOT of different kinds of staining.


Patients who smoke a lot or eat foods that have black coloring in it can give the tartar a black appearance, which we call black tartar. Here is a video of heavy black tartar build up around the teeth that is being removed.




How to get rid of black teeth from black tartar

Since the black color is coming from the tartar, the good news is that it can be removed. The bad news is that a regular dental cleaning will not be sufficient in getting rid of all of that calculus build up.


What you will need is a deep cleaning in order to have it fully removed. Unfortunately since there is so much build up, you will need to be numb for the procedure. In addition to that it'll also be split up into two separate visits. That is to ensure that your dentist has enough time to clean off all of the build up.




Amalgam fillings

Large amalgam fillings can potentially turn your tooth black if given enough time. It gives off a black appearance when it is large enough and also when the color leeches out into the tooth.


When the silver filling is very large, approximately half of the entire tooth structure, the darkness from the amalgam can show through. It becomes more apparent the larger the filling is.


Over time, silver fillings also tend to leech out color into the surrounding tooth structure. We call that amalgam staining. It is not harmful but it is a cosmetic concern for most people.


premolar with amalgam filling starting to turn black
premolar with amalgam filling starting to turn black

In the picture above, if you compare the tooth with the large amalgam filling to the adjacent one, you can tell that the tooth is starting to turn black. The color of it is just a lot darker than the one next to it. It is because the color is showing through and also because the color is leeching out.



How to fix it

In order to get rid of the blackness from a tooth with an amalgam filling, you would have to remove the entire restoration. After that you will have to replace it with a tooth colored filling so that it no longer has a dark color.


Just be aware that your dentist will most likely have to remove more tooth structure than just the filling because some of the color usually leeches out into the surrounding structure. This means that good tooth structure will need to be drilled out in order to hide the color.


That is one of the major downsides to getting a silver filling as opposed to a white one. Unfortunately, the tooth colored fillings were only a fairly recent invention so that means that a lot of older fillings were all made out of silver. Basically there are a lot of people walking around with black teeth due to large silver fillings!




Takeaway

Your tooth could turn black from a variety of dental conditions. The way to fix it would depend on the exact cause for why it turned black. Fortunately some of them are simple fixes while others can be more complicated.


If you notice your tooth turning colors, you should definitely schedule a consultation with your dentist so that you can have it addressed. If you wait too long the condition could get worse and also make the treatment more expensive.

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!