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. If the teeth turn black, however, a person should visit a dentist as soon as possible.
What causes black teeth?
Teeth turn black from either extrinsic or intrinsic causes.
Black teeth may be caused by tartar buildup and stains.
Image credit: Calvin Smith, 2009
Extrinsic causes of the 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 appear black when damaged from the inside. The most common culprits of black teeth in these cases are decay or cavities. For example, a pulp infection or dead tooth may turn a tooth 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 left untreated.
It is not normal 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.
In some cases, a spot may appear brown or gray. Over time, the brown spots can turn black.
Other times, the teeth may develop small dots that appear black. These small dots often appear near the gumline, which 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 it is removed. In these cases, holes may appear as the enamel erodes away.
What stains can be avoided?
Coffee and cola may lead to black teeth.
People concerned about developing black teeth should avoid putting certain things in their mouth.
They should also be sure to practice proper dental hygiene after eating.
Also, they may want to avoid or reduce their use of some of the following:
- black tea
- red wines
- tobacco products
Good dental hygiene can often protect against the potential extrinsic causes of black teeth.
Treatment and prevention
Treating black teeth at home is not usually possible. Several home whitening kits are available that may help with mild discoloration, but black teeth typically require professional treatment.
A dentist will examine the teeth to diagnose the underlying cause and will then determine the right treatment.
What if tartar is the cause?
A dentist will need to remove the buildup when tartar is the cause. This is typically done 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.
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.
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 the second layer of the tooth, however, the dentist will remove all the decay and place a crown over the top of the tooth.
Sometimes, the tooth may be too severely damaged to recover with a crown or filling. The dentist may need to remove the entire tooth instead.
People can often avoid black teeth with proper dental hygiene. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommend:
- brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
- cleaning or flossing between the teeth at least once a day
- scheduling regular dental visits
- avoiding sugary foods
A dentist is the best resource to determine if black teeth are caused by staining, tartar buildup, or decay. A person will need professional help to treat the black teeth, no matter what the cause.
Practicing proper dental hygiene can help prevent black teeth. Once removed, and with proper care, a person may never have black teeth again.