Protect those pearly whites

Ten tips

When Nicole Yaniz realized her 1-year-old twins’ teeth were starting to stain, she wasn’t sure what had caused it or what she could do about it."I flipped out and thought their teeth were rotting,” says the New Lenox mom.

It wasn’t until she spoke with her dentist that she discovered the staining came from the twins’ iron supplement."Even though staining is usually a minor issue, parents may still be concerned,” says Dr. Ned Savide, a pediatric dentist in Palos Park.

Knowing the reasons for discoloration helps parents prevent and treat stained teeth. Here are 10 causes to watch out for to save your child’s smile.

Prenatal medication. Sometimes during pregnancy, mothers are prescribed the drug tetracycline, which is used to treat infections."Pregnant women should try not to take tetracycline,” says Dr. Craig Kohler, a Wilmette dentist and professor at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare."It can affect her child’s teeth when they are forming.”

Food and drink. In some children, the foods and beverages they consume can cause their teeth to discolor. Dark juices like grape juice or tea and large amounts of chocolate or blueberries can eventually cause your kids’ teeth to turn a darker shade. Encourage your kids to brush after eating so the stains can’t take hold.

Bottle at bedtime. Parents know one of the best ways to prepare babies for naptime or bedtime is to give them a bottle. A full tummy usually equates to longer sleep. But allowing the milk or formula to linger in their mouths can cause staining, which might lead to cavities.

It’s better to give your baby a bottle, brush her teeth and then lay her down for a nap.

Medications. Like in the case of the Yaniz twins, iron supplements can cause staining on baby teeth. While this discoloring is harmless, it isn’t pretty and can be difficult to remove."It makes you feel like you want to put whitening on them,” Yaniz says."But of course, we would never in a million years.”

Sometimes the benefits of a medication outweigh the effects. You may be able to stem the spread of stains with vigilant brushing. Visits to the dentist for cleanings will also help remove discoloring.

Luckily this type of stain does not affect the health of the tooth.

Trauma. From the moment your child is mobile, he will most likely experience a fair share of falls, bumping his teeth. Even if the tooth is not knocked out or loosened, it may still develop a dark gray color that looks like a stain.

“If the tooth discolors early, it can be a bruise within the tooth,” Savide says."Over time if the nerve heals, the color can dissipate.”

Unfortunately this type of discoloration will either go away on its own or remain. Unless the dentist advises surgery, there is little parents can do about the discoloration.

Non-fluoridated water. With the ease of bottled water comes the reduction of exposure to fluoride. This naturally occurring mineral aids in fighting cavities, but when bottled water is processed, the fluoride usually disappears."Drink natural, fluoridated water instead of bottled water when possible,” Kohler says.

Braces. Make sure to tell your children to be very thorough when brushing or they might be left with staining when the braces come off."After the removal of braces, there may be little lines because the teeth were not completely cleaned,” Kohler says."It may not be deep enough to cause an actual cavity, but it can change the color of the teeth.”

Parents can ask if their child is eligible for the new removable braces that allow for even better cleaning in hard-to-reach places.

Plaque and tartar. If you’re noticing yellow or orange spots on your children’s teeth, you may be seeing the buildup of plaque and tartar. Plaque naturally occurs on your teeth and if it isn’t removed regularly with brushing, it can cause cavities or buildup until it hardens into tartar, which can lead to gingivitis.

Kids who are eat a lot of candy may be more susceptible to plaque because refined sugars damage teeth quicker than natural foods. Have your children cut back on the candy or make sure they brush their teeth directly after eating it. Dental hygienists are usually able to remove plaque during visits.

Over-whitening. In an effort to make their kids teeth sparkle, parents might grab a tube of whitening toothpaste. But most of these pastes are formulated for adults, not children. They are more abrasive and might contain a lot of fluoride, which could actually damage the teeth. Professional whitening is also not recommend for most children.

“Typically I don’t recommend whitening until all their adult teeth are in,” Kohler says."It doesn’t make sense to do whitening treatments to keep up with lost teeth.”

Poor oral hygiene. A child who doesn’t brush properly and floss daily may be subjected to more staining. From an early age, children should be taught how to brush properly. Some dentists recommend lightly swabbing the gums after feedings while others suggest waiting until teeth emerge before brushing.

But all dentists agree that parents should make tooth brushing and dental care a habit for their kids at an early age. Teach them to brush each side of every tooth, show them how to floss and when they are old enough, educate them on mouthwash.

“Daily brushing might solve most problems,” Savide says.

Michelle Sussman is a mom of two, wife and writer in Bolingbrook. You can contact her at

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