Why Do My Child’s Teeth Look Yellow?

I’m occasionally asked this question by parents of my NYC pediatric dental patients. In our society, white teeth are a sign of health and youthfulness so, when parents perceive their child’s teeth as yellowish, they become concerned. Here are some reasons that kids’ teeth can yellow.


  1. Baby Teeth are Whiter Than Permanent Teeth

While any parent may notice yellowing of their child’s teeth, it’s especially common for parents of children between the ages of 6 and 9. There’s an easy explanation for this. Children in that age group generally have a combination of primary (baby) teeth and permanent (adult) teeth, called mixed dentition. Because primary teeth have thinner enamel and less dentin than adult teeth, they appear whiter than adult teeth. By comparison, permanent teeth have more dentin, which is yellowish. When baby teeth are positioned next to permanent teeth, the permanent teeth appear more yellow. Contrary to our culture’s obsession with bright white teeth, permanent teeth are normally slightly yellow.


  1. Tooth Death

Poor dental hygiene or trauma can cause a tooth to die, and a dying tooth can appear yellow (as well as light brown, gray or even black). This discoloration increases as the tooth continues to decay and the nerve dies. This is an extremely rare occurrence in children and something we would notice at your child’s twice yearly exams.


Plaque buildup can increase the likelihood of yellowed teeth, as can dental erosion caused by the acids in soft drinks and fruit juices.


  1. Environmental Factors

If you notice yellowing of your teen’s teeth, it may be caused by lifestyle choices.


Does your child vape or smoke (cigarettes or marijuana)? Does she drink a great deal of soda, coffee or tea? Does he fail to brush and/or floss as a regular, twice-daily habit? These choices can result in yellowed teeth.


Certain medications are known to discolor teeth, including Amoxicillin, a very popular antibiotic for ear infections, and Doxycycline and Tetracycline, which are often used to treat acne. If your child is on one or more of these medications, it may be the cause of yellow teeth.


Solutions to Yellow Teeth in Pediatric Patients

We generally advise parents that, in kids with mixed dentition, once the permanent teeth are all in they will not notice yellowing, as the whiter baby teeth will no longer be present. For older children, a good cleaning with stain removal may be all that’s needed to restore a more “pearly white” appearance. We generally discourage patients from the more aggressive dental whitening unless they are in their late teens.


Call us at our Lower Manhattan pediatric dentist office with your concerns and needs. If we haven’t seen your child(ren) in the past six months, please make an appointment! You can reach us at 212-267-0029.