Updated: Jul 4
Are you starting to notice that the color of your teeth are changing? Is it just one single tooth or is it many teeth? Let's find out why.
Table of Contents
What causes grey teeth?
There are a lot of possible causes for gray teeth, some are natural while others are unnatural. All of the unnatural causes of gray teeth are usually a result of previous human interventions.
This antibiotic when taken as a child while the teeth are still developing can cause a very severe gray stain. It is most likely to occur when the tetracycline is taken in children under eight years old. That is the age, when the adult teeth are still growing. This can also occur in pregnant mothers that are taking the antibiotic.
If your tooth sustain any type of trauma, it may potentially turn gray as well. The reason for this is that your tooth can die from being hit. The upper front teeth are the most prone to trauma just because of where it is naturally positioned. It is first in line to receive the brunt of the blow, kind of like your defensive linemen.
It changes colors because when the tooth dies, the blood supply gets cut off so there is no more nutrients going to it. The change in color is your body's way of letting you know that it is no longer alive. A great analogy is when a human being dies, they start to become devoid of color. Dead bodies are not pink but greyish.
Statistics show that about 10.2% of children are likely to sustain trauma to the front teeth by just simply growing up and playing around with other children.
Another reason for the tooth to turn grey and darken over time is because necrotic tissue naturally turns black. That is a part of the normal process for tissue necrosis and you can see this with other body parts as well.
Here is a picture of feet that have necrotic tissue and you can see how dark the foot looks:
The pulp of your teeth is not an exception to this principle in life because the pulp is also tissue. All soft tissue can die and undergo necrosis to start changing colors. Therefore if your tooth is undergoing a color change, it is most likely necrotic.
Root canal medicine:
If you've had a root canal in it, it can often affect the appearance as well. This happens due to two reasons, with the first being that it is now necrotic or dead, and the second being the type of medicine that was put in the canal. The colors may range from dark gray to even red.
The photo above has that color due to a particular root canal filling material, resorcinol-formaldehyde, that use to be common in Russia but is no longer used due to its high toxicity and also tooth staining capabilities.
It is possible for your teeth to be a natural grey color simply from aging. Your teeth pick up extrinsic and intrinsic staining over the course of your and may result in a unique color. The above picture is a tooth color guide that we use to match your dental crowns. If you look all the way on the right, some teeth are indeed a darker color. If that happens to be you then that is what it is. Most people are in the "2" range a little bit to the left of the middle.
Silver filling staining:
If you have a lot of amalgam fillings in your mouth, they may change the color of your tooth. Notice in the photo above, the filling is still less than 50% of the entire tooth structure but you can already see that the color of the overall tooth is different from the rest of the mouth.
The reason this happens is that overtime the color starts to leech out to the surrounding tooth. We call it amalgam staining.
This is a big reason as to why most dental offices are moving away from doing the silver fillings and using tooth colored fillings instead. Our dentists in long island city only do the white fillings.
If you have a really big cavity, the tooth decay can even turn black to dark and grey. It is incredibly unsightly and not cosmetic at all! These teeth need cavity removal as soon as possible but they most likely already need a root canal.
Black tartar on teeth:
As a matter of fact, periodontal disease can give your teeth the appearance of a different color. Not so much gingivitis but it can happen to periodontitis, which is advanced gum disease. Usually people with periodontitis have very mature and hard plaque that we call tartar. The calculus can pick up a lot of staining and turn black into what we call black tartar.
Heavy smokers will give it that black and dark gray appearance as a result of tobacco tar.
This is a very rare hereditary disorder that is caused by defective dentin formation. Dentin is the layer underneath the enamel. This defect can often give the teeth a blue to grey hue appearance.
How do we diagnose grey teeth?
Due to the plethora of causes for grey teeth, the only way to diagnose what caused it exactly is by having a dental check up by your dentist. It will be a combination of a clinical exam along with x rays.
Your dentist will also do a vitality test, which tests to see if the tooth is alive or dead. We also call this a cold test because we use a cold material to test if the tooth is responsive or not. Usually a necrotic tooth will have zero response to cold.
How do we treat grey teeth?
The treatment for the discolored tooth would depend on why it is discolored.
Staining from foods and other external causes. This can be treated by teeth whitening, either by using whitening toothpastes, whitening strips, or professional dental whitening such as KoR. Just be aware that bleaching your teeth can cause teeth sensitivity as a side effect.
If it is from an old amalgam filling, you can simply replace it with a tooth colored filling.
If the tooth had a root canal, you will need to cover it with a dental crown since the entire tooth tends to be gray. Veneers may not be thick enough to cover the severe tooth discoloration cases.
You can also do internal bleaching of your tooth after a root canal.
Can grey teeth be whitened?
If you have a dead grey tooth, the teeth whitening will only help a little bit. You actually need a different type of whitening for grey teeth called internal whitening. This is different from your regular traditional whitening. The internal whitening whitens the tooth from the inside out. The traditional whitening whitens from the outside in. Typically only a root canal specialist can perform this internal bleaching procedure.
What to expect and conclusion
Overall, a tooth that has changed colors will not change back to their previous shade. It will require human intervention either by you or your dentist. There are various options available to improve the cosmetics of gray teeth:
Porcelain crowns and porcelain veneers
Don't forget to go in for your six month dental check ups so that we can catch these occurrences early and address them.
Author: Written by Dr David Chen, a cosmetic dentist in long island city.
This article is for information purposes only.
You should consult your own dentist since they are your primary care provider.
99.99% of dental symptoms require intervention by a dentist, that's just the unfortunate nature of dentistry. (Hint: its the reason why you can't get rid of us.)