Why Is My Tooth Turning Brown?

You don’t need to have super-white teeth to have a healthy smile. In fact, most people have teeth that are closer to a natural off-white or cream color, especially as they get older. But when a single tooth looks darker than your other teeth, that’s an indication of a problem — one that needs to be evaluated and remedied as soon as possible.

The team at Compassionate Endodontists New York/NYC is skilled at identifying the causes of discolored teeth, offering treatments to restore your tooth and your smile while preventing more serious problems. In this post, learn some of the more common causes of individual tooth discoloration.

Quick facts about tooth color

Many people think of their teeth as being solid structures, but teeth actually have several layers. The color of your teeth comes from the outer enamel layer and the layer of yellowish dentin just below the enamel. 

While enamel is whiter than dentin, years of wear-and-tear can make your enamel layer thinner, allowing more of the dentin to show through. That’s a big reason why your teeth may look a little yellower as you age. Some people have naturally thin layers of enamel, which means their teeth will tend to look yellower regardless of their age.

Tooth discoloration can also be caused by smoking, poor oral hygiene, and many of the foods and beverages we consume. This type of discoloration typically affects all your teeth or, in the case of smoking, several front teeth. When one tooth turns dark, it’s almost always because of a serious oral health problem that’s affecting a single tooth.

Dark teeth: Four possible causes

The only real way to know what’s causing a tooth to turn dark is to have it professionally evaluated by our team. These are some of the more common potential causes.

Tooth decay

Cavities are often regarded as a childhood health problem, but plenty of adults have tooth decay, too. In fact, the CDC says about 26% of American adults have at least one untreated cavity.

Most tooth decay happens when bacteria destroy the outer layers of the tooth structure, including your white enamel. Because the decayed debris inside your tooth is darker than your enamel or your dentin, they can make a tooth look darker than its neighbors. That's especially true if the cavity is especially large.

Large fillings

Today, many people opt for tooth-colored fillings when they need to have a cavity filled. But sometimes, metal amalgam is used instead. 

While amalgam is amazingly strong and durable, it does tend to lose its silver color over time, becoming very dark. Sometimes, a very large filling “shows through” your enamel and dentin layers, making the tooth look dark.

If you have a visible large filling, you can have it replaced by a tooth-colored filling, or you might choose to have the tooth covered by a crown. Depending on the extent of the filling and how much of your natural tooth remains, you might need to have a root canal before the crown is applied. 

Internal decay or infection

While a lot of cavities form in the enamel and dentin layers, some decay happens in the central pulp part of your tooth where the tooth’s nerves and blood vessels are found. This is when a root canal can help. 

Root canal treatment removes the damaged pulp, restoring the tooth and reducing the risk of tooth loss. But once the pulp is gone, it’s common for the tooth to turn dark. Fortunately, a dental crown can help, covering the tooth so it blends in with your other teeth.

Traumatic damage

In addition to deep decay and infection, traumatic injury, like a facial impact, can also damage the tooth’s structure. If a traumatic injury damages the tooth nerve, the tooth can turn dark over time. As with damage by deep decay, traumatic damage can be corrected with a root canal and a dental crown to improve the appearance and the health of the tooth.

Tailored treatment for your beautiful smile

Any type of tooth discoloration needs to be evaluated by a dentist, but when discoloration affects a single tooth, it’s important to schedule that evaluation right away. To learn more about the state-of-the-art, smile-saving treatments we offer, call 929-229-0255 or book an appointment online at Compassionate Endodontists New York/NYC today.

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