Black teeth can be a sign of an underlying decay or cavities, or may be the result of staining. Different foods and drinks can leave behind a bit of pigment, causing the teeth to turn black.
Teeth owe their color to the high amount of calcium found in the outer layer of the teeth, known as the enamel.
Over time, additional elements left behind by foods and drinks can start to make teeth yellow or gray. However, if the teeth turn black, a person should visit a dentist as soon as possible.
Teeth consist of three layers:
- Enamel: This is the hard outer layer of the tooth.
- Dentin: Dentin is the layer beneath a tooth’s enamel. It contains micriscopic tubes that allow heat, cold, and acid to stimulate nerve endings. Damage to enamel can expose dentin.
- Pulp: This is the centre of the tooth. The pulp of the tooth contains blood veseels, connective tissue, and nerves.
Teeth will appear black due to discoloration of the enamel. Teeth can turn black from either external or internal causes.
External causes of teeth turning black come from the outside of the tooth.
These can include:
- damage to the enamel
- tartar buildup
Some direct causes of staining include:
- frequently eating or drinking a dark food product, such as coffee
- taking certain medications, such as liquid iron supplements
- using certain mouth rinses and toothpastes
- using tobacco
- having crowns and fillings made with silver sulfide
The tooth may also appear black when damage occurs from the inside. The most common causes of black teeth in these cases are decay or cavities. For example, a tooth with a pulp infection or a dead tooth may turn black.
The damage starts on the inside and works its way to the surface. The black color of the tooth may first appear in spots and eventually cover the entire tooth if a person does not seek treatment.
It is unusual for a tooth to quickly change from a whitish hue to black. A person will typically notice some other signs before the tooth starts to turn black.
A person’s teeth may become more sensitive, resulting in pain when eating or drinking, before teeth discolor. The teeth may also develop small dots that appear black, often near the gum line. This is a common occurrence in children who have black teeth.
When tartar is the cause, a person will probably notice black coloration on the outside of the molars or the inside of the front teeth. Tartar will continue to build up the stain unless a dentist removes it. In these cases, holes may appear as the enamel erodes.
People concerned about developing black teeth should be sure to practice proper dental hygiene. This includes:
- brushing teeth twice a day with flouride toothpaste
- cleaning between the teeth with floss or interdental cleaners daily
- attending regular dentist check ups
People may also benefit from avoiding or reducing their intake of the following:
It is not usually possible to get rid of black teeth at home. Home whitening kits may help with mild discoloration, but black teeth typically require professional treatment.
A dentist will examine the teeth to diagnose the underlying cause and determine the right treatment.
What if tartar is the cause?
A dentist will need to remove the buildup when tartar is the cause, typically by scraping the tartar off the teeth. The dentist may need to use ultrasonic instruments that use vibration to break up the tartar and make it easier to remove.
Learn more about tartar and plaque removal here.
What if decay is the cause?
In cases of decay, it is unlikely that a dentist will be able to improve the black teeth through a simple cleaning. They will instead need to remove the decayed portion of the tooth.
When is removal neccesary?
Sometimes a dentist will have to remove black teeth.
If the decay is in one part of the tooth, the dentist might be able to remove the affected portion and close the hole with a filling. If the decay has reached a large section of the tooth, the dentist will remove all the decay and place a crown over the top of the tooth.
However, if the damage to the tooth is too severe to recover with a crown or filling, the dentist may need to remove the entire tooth instead.
A dentist can determine if a tooth has turned black due to staining, tartar buildup, or decay. People will need professional help to treat the black teeth, no matter the cause.
Practicing proper dental hygiene