My Tooth is Darkening. What Does It Mean?

My Tooth is Darkening. What Does It Mean?

New York City is known as a city of glamour, a city where the image you create of yourself is of paramount importance. A single darkened tooth? Unthinkable!

That’s obviously an exaggeration — most New Yorkers are not as image-obsessed as the media makes them out to be. But a dark tooth is still an object of concern, even if you’re not solely focused on your personal brand.

That’s because when a tooth turns dark, it does so for a reason — and none of the possible reasons are good news for your oral health. At Compassionate Endodontists New York/NYC, our team helps you discover the cause of your dark tooth so we can treat it and restore your beautiful smile. If you have a darkened tooth, here’s what could be causing it.

Why teeth turn dark

Pretty much everyone knows about teeth whitening treatments and how they work to transform smiles that are yellowed, gray, or just plain dingy. Typically, this type of “mouth-wide” discoloration is due to the foods we eat, tobacco smoking, poor oral hygiene, genetics, aging, or even certain medications. When a single tooth turns color, it’s usually because of a different reason.

Our teeth get their white appearance from the tough enamel layer on the surface of the tooth. Just under the enamel is the yellow dentin layer. When teeth are stained, it’s typically the enamel layer that’s discolored. Sometimes, the enamel layer wears thin, exposing the yellow dentin underneath.

Darkening of an individual tooth, on the other hand, is often due to some sort of interior damage to the tooth. 


Cavities are, unfortunately, pretty common. In fact, roughly one-quarter of American adults have at least one untreated cavity. When you have a cavity, it damages the outer layers of your tooth, exposing your nerve and causing tooth pain or making your tooth more sensitive to pressure and temperature. 

Most cavities can be filled with tooth-colored resins that form a strong bond with your natural tooth material. But in the meantime, the decayed part can cause the whole tooth to look dark compared to the teeth on either side.

Pulp damage

Cavities in the outer layers of your tooth material can be “fixed” with fillings. But when the decay or infection is in the deeper central part of the tooth — an area called the pulp — restoring the tooth typically means having a root canal.

The central pulp part of your tooth contains the blood vessels and nerves that support tooth health. When the pulp is infected, the nerves and vessels are affected, too. Infections in this area can kill off tooth material, leaving a dark “void” that’s visible through the tooth enamel. 

Having a root canal removes the damaged part of the tooth and fills it with a special material to strengthen the tooth. Then, the tooth is covered with a crown, so it blends in beautifully with its neighbors. 

Sometimes, the pulp part of your tooth isn’t infected at all — it’s damaged by a traumatic injury, like being hit in the mouth. Traumatic injury can kill the nerve inside your tooth, leading to a dark appearance that may or may not improve with time.

Dark fillings

Sometimes, a dark tooth isn’t due to an infection at all. Instead, it happens when an old, metal amalgam filling turns dark — a natural occurrence for these fillings, which are composed of a variety of metals, including mercury.

Metal fillings can make a tooth look dark almost from the moment they’re applied. But as the metal ages, it gets darker still. If your enamel layer starts to wear down as a result of years of wear and tear on your tooth, more of that dark filling shows through.

In these instances, you have a couple of possible treatments. You might decide to replace the old filling with a tooth-colored filling to restore a whiter appearance to your tooth. Or you could decide to cover the tooth with a crown or veneer. Even then, replacing the older filling with a new filling might be a good idea, since old metal fillings can become harbors for bacteria — and birthplaces of cavities.

Keep your smile looking its best

Don’t let a single darkened tooth rob you of your confident smile. We can help. To learn more about the treatment options we offer, call 929-229-0255 or book an appointment online at Compassionate Endodontists New York/NYC today.

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