Black spots on teeth demystified

Finding black spots on your teeth signals something going on with the bacteria and acids in your mouth. Find out what it means and what to do about it.

Discovering black spots, marks, or stains on your teeth might cause your heart to skip a beat. While those spots mean something has gone awry, the good news is you can do something to get rid of them today and prevent them in the future.

If you're worried sick about the black spot you found on your tooth, rest assured it's something your dentist will know how to handle. More than 90% of Americans will find (or their dentists will find) some sort of black spot or mark on their teeth that needs medical attention at some point in their life.

Black marks on teeth - what are they?

Ok, this might seem silly, but if you ate something with black pepper flakes or poppy seeds, give your mouth a good rinse. Are the black marks still there?

Yes? Black marks on your teeth signal something is going on with your teeth causing the black mark. Here are the most common reasons your teeth develop black marks:

  • Cavities or tooth decay
  • Tooth injuries
  • Tartar buildup

If your tooth with the black marks or spots is also sensitive to hot or cold drinks / food, is giving you pain when you eat, or is sensitive to sweets, those black spots or marks are probably a cavity.

Dark spots between teeth and on biting surfaces

Whether the black spots are on the biting side of your teeth, the surfaces facing your tongue or your lips / cheeks, or between your teeth - they are likely caused by cavities. Cavities don't spring up overnight. They form over time and often go unnoticed until they cause you enough pain to make eating uncomfortable.

Here's how cavities form. After you eat, small food particles get stuck in the crevices of your teeth and linger long after you finish eating. Your saliva breaks down those particles into carbohydrates and sugars. Bacteria in your mouth find those morsels and break them down even further, into acids. These acids are, well, acidic, and as they sit on your teeth, they dissolve the minerals (calcium and phosphorus) in your tooth's enamel. 

If you keep up a killer hygiene routine at home every day that removes the acids and keeps your mouth bacteria-free, your chances of getting a cavity are much lower. But if you continually miss cleaning spots in your mouth like the tricky grooves of your molars or the tight spaces between your teeth, the bacteria will have time to sit, feast, and create acids. 

Day after day that you don't remove those particles and bacteria, the acids eat away at your enamel, causing your teeth to become weaker. Let alone for enough time those acids will bore through the enamel and reach the sensitive dentin layer of your tooth. Exposed dentin is extremely sensitive to hot, cold, and sugary foods and drinks.

Because cavities are tiny and your mouth is dark, they can appear as black dots or marks when you peer into the mirror.

Black stains on teeth and what to do about it

If you've now determined those black stains and dots are probably cavities, you can do more than avoid eating on that tooth. Make an appointment with your dentist. 

When you get a cavity, sadly it means your tooth is beyond the point of self-repair. "A cavity means the enamel has been compromised, breaking into the next layer of the tooth; sometimes visibly, sometimes microscopically. At that point, the best thing to do is get a filling to stop the decay process and get your tooth back to feeling normal," shares Wally hygienist, Sarah Clark, RDH. "Taking care of a cavity, even one you can't see or feel, prevents bigger issues like tooth infections, aka abscess, which means more involved, and expensive, dental care."

Grey spots on teeth, do they mean something different?

Is part or all of your tooth grey? Then you're likely not dealing with a cavity and seeing something else happen with your teeth. The most common causes for grey teeth are:

  • Tooth trauma - any kind of force or impact where the result is cutting of blood flow to the tooth
  • Tetracycline - exposure to tetracycline antibiotics while your adult teeth are forming can lead to grey-ish blue "bands" on your teeth
  • Aging

Grey teeth aren't cause for immediate concern. But if you want to change the color of your grey teeth, your options will be a bit more involved than using regular whitening products

Dark spots on teeth - how to prevent them

To prevent more black spots from happening, incorporate two things into your hygiene routine from home:

  1. Decrease the amount of acids and bacteria sitting in your mouth
  2. Focus on remineralizing your teeth

It's all about upgrading your oral care approach at home. Here are our top techniques to help you decrease acids and bacteria, and ensure your teeth are getting the minerals they need:

  • If you use a manual toothbrush, consider upgrading to an electric sonic toothbrush. That means the bristles pulse in a way that's effective for cleaning and safe for your gums.
  • If your toothbrush has medium or hard bristles, throw them out and buy a soft-head toothbrush.
  • Brush at least twice per day for two minutes to ensure you're scrubbing all the nooks and crannies around the gum line.
  • Use toothpaste with a remineralizing ingredient
  • Floss or use a water pik daily to keep the spaces between your teeth clean (of course we had to mention this).

And when it comes to toothpaste you can use every day to remineralize your teeth, there are lots of options that will make your hygienist happy.

Our clinical team of dentists and hygienists say no matter the flavor (we get it, sometimes watermelon is just too good to pass up), just check that your toothpaste contains one of the following remineralizing ingredients:

  • Fluoride
  • Recaldent
  • Hydroxyapatite

Any of these ingredients will help keep your enamel strong. If you're looking for more information about each of these ingredients, you can get more details here.

And, of course, make sure you see your dentist for regular cleanings and checks throughout the year. "No two mouths are the same, so the standard 'come twice a year' is actually the wrong advice for some people," explains Sarah Clark, RDH. "Many patients have an oral environment that's more favorable to bacteria, so it's important to add an extra one or even two appointments each year to ensure they're removing that biofilm buildup."

That's why the Wally membership doesn't put a limit on the number of cleanings you can have each year. Prevention is our goal, and we're rewriting the way to do dental care to ensure you have affordable access to the care you need.

Check out our complete guide on teeth discoloration, "White spots on teeth and other discoloration" for everything you need to keep your teeth looking evenly bright.

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