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 two common causes of white spots on baby teeth and toddler teeth—one that is fairly benign and one that needs prompt attention.
Cause #1: Fluorosis
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, and 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 this 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 #2: Tooth Decay
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.
White Spots on Baby Teeth: What to Do
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.
White Spots on Baby Teeth FAQs
Why are there spots on my baby’s teeth that are just coming in?
If your baby’s brand-new teeth have white spots or streaks on them, it may be a sign of fluorosis, a condition that develops when a child gets too much enamel while the teeth are developing. Babies who drink formula made with water that contains a high level of fluoride are at a slightly elevated risk of developing fluorosis. Swallowing large amounts of toothpaste is also a risk factor, which is why it is so important to supervise young children while brushing and to use an appropriate amount of toothpaste. With toddlers, the correct amount is a smear the size of a grain of rice. For elementary school aged children, a pea sized amount should be used. Remember, permanent teeth start to develop around age 3, so fluorosis of the permanent teeth can develop early if you don’t work on teaching proper oral care habits.
Will the white spots on my child’s baby teeth go away?
Although, it depends somewhat on the cause of the spots, but if you do nothing, the spots are probably not leaving anytime soon. If you make no changes, the conditions that caused the white spots to develop still exist. Spots from fluorosis or mineral loss will not disappear on their own. Of course, your child will lose their baby teeth, so treating white spots is a balancing act between preserving the health of the primary (baby) teeth for their expected lifespan and not overtreating teeth that won’t be around in a few years. Remineralizing weakened enamel can improve the look of white spots, as can resin fillings done at your dentist’s office.
Why does my child get white spots on their teeth when they are sleeping or have a cold?
If your child’s white spots are only visible after sleeping and go away in a little while all on their own, it’s likely that they white spots are dehydrated spots on the enamel. If you or your child sleep with your mouth open, your mouth will dry out, allowing the surface of your enamel to dehydrate slightly. Your saliva plays an important role in keeping your enamel healthy. It constantly bathes the tooth surfaces in minerals that make enamel strong. When the saliva dries out from mouth breathing during sleep, the surface does not benefit from this mineral bath. Children are more likely to mouth breath while sleeping if they have a cold clogging their nose. It provide your teeth with the best protection, do your best to keep your child’s nasal passages clear while they have a cold and discourage mouth breathing.