Does your child have chalky teeth? Here’s what you need to know
The term ‘chalky teeth’ refers to a developmental defect of the tooth enamel that can affect both baby and adult teeth.
Think of the tooth like a pumpkin. The outside is your enamel and it’s really hard – in fact it’s stronger than every other bone in your body! The middle layer is somewhat soft, and then at the core you’ve got the pumpkin pulp, or in this case the nerves and the blood vessels also called the “pulp” or “root canal”.
Chalky teeth impact that outer layer of the tooth, though the longer it’s left untreated the more likely it is to break down into those inner, softer sections.
WHAT ARE CHALKY TEETH?
Commonly called by the term developmental enamel defect, chalky teeth is a condition where the hard enamel on the tooth has developed irregularly, having a soft, ‘chalky’ appearance. Of course teeth that are inherently defective in quality are more likely to be affected by decay.
While it may first be observed in the baby teeth, it can also affect the adult molars when they erupt around age six.
The condition itself may begin in utero. This is especially important for parents to understand as many come to the dentist feeling guilty that it’s due to other lifestyle factors like poor diet or lack of brushing – rest assured, it is not due to that.
In fact there is no clear cause for the condition . According to the D3 Group, the studies that have been done imply that the problem is a complex dental condition in which a number of generic and systemic factors interact. And although developmental defects of enamel remains one of the most researched areas of dentistry, there is no clear cause that has been established.
SIGNS OF CHALKY TEETH
The initial sign you might notice is often a well demarcated spot in the tooth. It could range from unnaturally white to creamy yellow or brown. This discolouration is typically restricted to a small spot or patch, but the whole tooth surface may be impacted in more serious cases.
Sometimes the enamel also appears dull and opaque, or crumbles easily (where the term ‘chalky’ comes from) – opposed to the shiny, hard surface the enamel should display.
Often the condition is easily missed as it progresses quite rapidly.
HOW WILL MY DENTIST TREAT CHALKY TEETH?
Not all cases of chalky teeth sit on the same end of the spectrum.
Early preventive treatment with simple fissure sealants can help to protect surfaces of the teeth by decreasing food and debris accumulating in these teeth and reduce the chance of progression of decay.
Once the condition has progressed to the point where there is loss of tooth structure, your dentist may recommend restoring these teeth to protect them from further breakdown.
Finally, if the teeth are heavily broken down and causing severe pain, extracting these teeth may be the only viable option.
Understandably there are a lot of options surrounding treatment depending on the severity of the case. Routine visits to your child’s dentist will help to identify these issues earlier.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT CHALKY TEETH?
While there is no way to prevent the condition, regular check ups with your child’s dentist is the best way to help identify it early and minimise its progression.
Also make sure to look out for these different behaviours in your child, especially if they’re not old enough to verbally express their discomfort yet:
- Sensitivity to cold foods and drinks
- Avoiding or favouring a particular side to chew
- Avoiding brushing around certain teeth
As part of every routine visit your dentist will assess your child’s teeth for issues such as developmental defects. Diagnosing such conditions earlier will help discussion and planning the appropriate care.
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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics and to help begin the conversation with your children’s dentist. It should not be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your health care professional prior to incorporating this as part of your child’s diet or health regimen.