Parents eagerly look forward to that moment when a baby’s toothless grin becomes a toothy grin, despite the many discomforts teething can bring. There may be no greater concern for a parent than any problem visible on those brand new pearly whites. Temporary teeth or no, baby teeth serve children for their early years into their pre-teen years. It is, then, perfectly reasonable for parents to want to take the best possible care of those tiny teeth and worry about any apparent imperfections they may notice. The appearance of a white spot or spots will send the concerned parent in search of reasons why. There are 2 common causes of white spots on baby teeth—one that’s fairly benign and one that needs prompt attention.
Cause One: Not Pretty, but Not Dangerous
Fluorosis is a likely culprit when white spots are visible on newly erupting baby teeth. Sometimes appearing as white streaks, sometimes appearing as tiny, irregular spots, often only barely visible or only visible during a close dental exam, fluorosis develops when a child gets too much fluoride while the teeth are developing below the gum surface.
Fluoride is a great benefit to the growing tooth and a great protector and strengthener of tooth enamel. It keeps enamel hard and healthy when it combines with other minerals that make up the hard, outer shell that protects the inner tooth. But, like most good things, it is possible to get too much of it. The risk of fluorosis is only present before teeth erupt, before they emerge from the gums. When it occurs, it generally happens from using multiple fluoride containing products (toothpaste, oral rinses, etc.) and from young children swallowing, not spitting fluoride containing products. Some areas also have high levels of fluoride naturally occurring in the soil, and fluorosis is more common in those areas.
The good news is that fluorosis spots are not weak spots on the teeth; in fact, they tend to be stronger than the surrounding enamel. They are not a problem from a health standpoint, merely a cosmetic one. Teaching proper brushing technique can help prevent these spots from developing. Using a fluoride free toothpaste with young children who are learning proper habits may be appropriate as well.
Cause Two: A Call to Action
A less benign cause of white spots on baby teeth is the early stages of tooth decay. Spots that look dry, chalky, and appear at the gumline warrant a visit to the dentist for a check-up and possible treatment. These early decay spots are caused by mineral loss from the enamel. Left unchecked, the spots will turn yellow or brown and require more extensive treatment. When seen by a dentist early, while spots are still white and just forming, it is often possible to treat the spots with professionally applied topical fluoride and careful removal of any plaque present. The fluoride replaces the missing minerals and strengthens the tooth enamel.
It’s important to correct any bad oral care habits and improve any deficiencies in the child’s oral care routine to prevent new demineralized, early decay spots from developing. A fluoride containing toothpaste with remineralizing capabilities is a good idea in the fight to prevent a recurrence of cavities.
The bottom line remains that any time a parent is concerned about their child’s oral health, they should consult a dentist as early as possible to make sure their little one receives the best possible care and that any problems can be treated while they are still small.