Real Talk: My Kid’s Teeth Are Yellow. What Can I Do?
Is this normal? Is it wrong to care? Dental experts lay it all out so you know when to worry and when to let it go.
The world is so focused on appearance. No matter how much we love our kids and no matter how beautiful we think they are, we also can't help sometimes but notice minor things that we worry other kids might make fun of. For teens, this can be worrying they need a better face wash or worrying they're skipping too many showers (ain't no stank like teen stank!). But the worry about our kids' appearances can start a lot earlier, too — like when they start sprouting teeth, particularly the permanent ones. If you're worried your kiddo's teeth are a little too yellow, you're not alone. Search data shows that plenty of parents are concern-Googling the same thing.
But are your kid's yellow teeth a big deal, or just part of the growing-up process? Scary Mommy spoke to experts about why teeth look yellow, what causes yellowing, and how to fix yellow teeth. So, before you start stressing about those little "toofers," check out what the experts say.
Are your kiddo's teeth really even yellow?
Before diving into what might be causing actual yellow teeth, let's address a common mistake many parents make: comparing baby teeth to permanent teeth. Dr. Susan Maples lays it out simply and reassuringly.
"Don't you love how white your baby's teeth are? They're called 'milk teeth' for that reason," Maples shares. "And they stay white too, unless they bear an injury or a cavity — either of which can cause darkening. Then one day, about six years old, your child's two front baby teeth are replaced by their first permanent teeth, and — bummer(!) — they tend to look so much yellower in contrast to the neighboring baby teeth. Some parents get freaked out, and they schedule an appointment just to ask, 'What happened?' Usually it's nothing but the shade of things to come."
Why are permanent teeth darker than baby teeth?
"The color of a person's teeth is influenced less by the glassy outer enamel layer and more by the 'dentin.' That's the term for the core of the tooth," Dr. Maples explains. "It's much more substantial in bulk than enamel. The bigger the tooth, the more color-rich dentin there is to shine through the enamel."
What if your kid's teeth are just yellow?
Evan McCarthy, CEO of SportingSmiles LLC, explains that two different kinds of stains occur with teeth.
"Extrinsic stains occur on the surface of the tooth," says McCarthy. "They occur when pigment residue from the things you eat and drink build up in the film within your mouth, staining the outer layer of the enamel."
In other words, these are stains usually caused by things like our morning coffees or evening teas. It's not out of the realm of possibility for a child to develop extrinsic stains from things like heavily dyed juices or snacks. However, a child's teeth stains are likely intrinsic.
"Intrinsic stains are below the surface of the tooth," explains McCarthy, "and are often due to things such as increased antibiotic use as a child. They can also be caused by dental trauma or certain medical conditions. These stains are deeper within the tooth and harder to remove."
Dr. Prav Solanki, CEO of The Fresh, explains, "Yellow teeth in children are common. There are two main reasons for yellow teeth in children — immature enamel and poor oral hygiene. If not addressed, these issues may result in tooth decay. Kids love sugary stuff, and without proper dental care, it can build up to plaque, making the teeth yellow."
So, how can you fix the extrinsic stains on your child's teeth?
"The solution is to brush your child's teeth twice a day," says Dr. Solanki. "If there is severe yellowing of the teeth, then it may be tooth decay, and you'll need to visit a dentist."
McCarthy offers even more tips:
Reduce stain-causing foods and beverages.
Some staining foods and beverages include coffee, tea, dark sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, tomato-based pasta sauces, berries, beets, soy sauce, and foods high in certain spices, such as curry powder. Limiting these foods in your regular diet helps reduce your risk of tooth staining.
Brush or rinse immediately after eating or drinking.
If you don't want to say goodbye to your favorite foods and beverages (or battle your kid over tossing theirs, as it were), you can still reduce the risk of staining. How? After consuming foods or drinks that can cause stains, rinse and brush teeth as soon as possible.
Consider using a straw.
Drinking beverages like tea through a straw is good for your teeth. When you sip through a straw, it limits the contact beverages have with your teeth, reducing the risk of staining.
Swallow foods and drinks swiftly.
Many people tend to hold beverages in their mouth or swish it around before swallowing. This increases the contact it has with teeth and can contribute to staining.
Eat dark leafy greens before eating other foods.
There are some benefits to the idea of a salad before dinner. Eating dark, leafy greens such as arugula, kale, or collard greens creates a protective film on the teeth. This protects them from the damage and staining high-acid foods can cause. So, opt for a salad before that bowl of spaghetti.
What about products like whitening strips or charcoal toothpaste?
You use whitening strips to keep your teeth bright, so it may be tempting to pull them out to try with your kid. However, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends waiting until all of your child’s baby teeth have fallen out (around 14 years old) before using whitening products like strips and gels. Before 14, your child’s tooth enamel isn’t fully calcified, and whitening products — which contain hydrogen peroxide — could break down enamel.
Generally speaking, charcoal toothpaste is considered safe if your child is over 2 and old enough to spit out toothpaste (not swallow) when brushing their teeth. But much debate exists over whether it does more harm than good. Studies suggest that charcoal toothpaste’s abrasiveness could wear down enamel and cause tooth sensitivity. Plus, many charcoal toothpaste formulas don’t contain fluoride, which protects against cavities and decay.
Anything else to keep in mind?
You may be worried about your kid's yellow teeth, but you don't need to tell them that. We all know how easy it is to get in our kids' heads and hurt their feelings. Dr. Maples warns that the same thing can happen if you do too much nagging or worrying about their teeth. "If you make a big deal about the color of your kiddo's teeth, it can create some unnecessary shame and muted smiles," says Dr. Maples. "Celebrate health... complete with lots of ear-to-ear grins."