What Causes White Spots on Your Teeth

Many people notice the phenomenon of bright white spots on their teeth.  They typically appear a little chalky, lacking the glossy shine of the surrounding enamel.  They often occur as small “halos” after the removal of braces at the end of orthodontic treatment.  This article will cover the causes of white spots on the teeth, how to prevent them, and the treatment options to correct them.

Are White Spots a Bad Thing?

They can be.

In some cases, white spots are simply a malfunction in tooth formation.  The spot itself indicates a difference in the actual makeup of the enamel.  Some teeth have white spots due to an excess of fluoride in the water supply that the person drank while the teeth were forming.  (This could even apply to the mom drinking high fluoride water while the teeth form in utero.)  While this type of white spot is still unattractive, it is not necessarily a problem for the health of the tooth.

More commonly, the white spots are evidence of damage to the surface of enamel by the collection of plaque.  We will cover this in detail in the following section.

What Causes White Spots on the Teeth?

The most common cause of white spots on the teeth is a process called demineralization.  Demineralization is a softening and weakening of the outermost layer of enamel.  Enamel is the hardest structure in the human body, but it is not invincible.  The one thing that can wreak havoc on enamel is acid.

The bacteria living in dental plaque produce acid as a by-product of digesting sugar from your diet.  Dental plaque is sticky and remains on the tooth surface until you physically remove it with great brushing and flossing.  When you do not remove dental plaque, the bacteria continues producing acid, which continues to soften and weaken the enamel.

So the cause of most white spots is dental plaque that stays in contact with the enamel for too long.  We can extrapolate from this that the cause is most likely related to an oral hygiene routine that does not sufficiently remove dental plaque.  The two most common sites for white spots are the area surrounding braces, forming a circular halo effect, and the area near the gums, forming a half-moon or crescent shape.

If there is no intervention to remove dental plaque and stop this process, the bacteria can eventually penetrate through the enamel and work their way into the underlying tooth.  Demineralization is the first stage of a cavity.

The good news is that demineralization is preventable and, if caught early enough, reversible!

How Can I Prevent White Spots on the Teeth?

In order to stop demineralization from occurring, you have to consistently remove dental plaque from your teeth.  Plaque collects on the teeth every day, between every meal and between every brushing and flossing regimen.  By removing the dental plaque, you are eliminating the possibility that the bacteria stays on the teeth long enough to damage the enamel with acid.

Preventing Circular White Halos around Braces

For orthodontic patients who have braces bonded to the teeth, the risk for white circles is a constant problem.  In order to reduce this risk, great plaque control is essential.  Orthodontic brackets are a plaque magnet, and they can be difficult to clean.  Your dentist and dental hygienist can give you great tips on plaque removal with braces in place.  These tips will probably include:

  • Using an electric toothbrush in place of a manual one can remove plaque around the brackets more effectively.
  • Add a water flosser (like WaterPik) to clean underneath wires and between the teeth.
  • Use specialized flossers made to slip beneath the wires and easily remove plaque between the teeth (see Platypus Flossers here).
  • Add a fluoride mouthrinse to your oral hygiene routine. We recommend PhosFlur made by Colgate.  This mouthwash was developed specifically to fight the white spots common to orthodontic patients.  Rinse with it for one to two minutes after brushing and flossing and spit.  Do not rinse your mouth afterward, but instead, allow the rinse to remain on the teeth for the best effect.

Preventing Crescent-Shaped Marks Near the Gums

If you do not have braces, you are still at risk for white spots.  Plaque tends to collect between the teeth and along the gumline of the teeth.  White spots are common between the teeth, but you cannot see them.  Because they are unseen, they often go unnoticed until a full-blown cavity develops.  In order to prevent these, flossing is necessary!  It is the only way to remove the plaque that collects between two teeth.

The crescent-shaped white marks that develop along the gumline result from accumulation of dental plaque in this area.  This type of white spot is common in patients who are unable or unwilling to use a proper toothbrushing technique on a regular basis, and in those who suffer from a dry mouth.  A dry mouth affects both the amount and consistency of plaque, leading to more plaque that is stickier and harder to remove.  To prevent this type of white spot, you must take a few specific steps.

  • Use the correct toothbrushing technique, which includes brushing the edge of the gums in a gentle, circular motion with a soft-bristled toothbrush. You must make sure the bristles touch every exposed surface of every tooth.
  • Brush with this technique twice a day to prevent long periods of plaque buildup.
  • Switch from a manual toothbrush to an electric toothbrush.
  • Combat dry mouth by drinking plenty of water and chewing sugar-free gum.
  • Speak to your dentist if your dry mouth persists and makes it difficult to keep your teeth clean.

What are the Treatment Options to Correct White Spots?

In order to correct white spots, we first have to reverse the demineralization process.  There are dental materials we can use to remineralize the enamel in these areas.  The treatment options for remineralization may include in-office treatments as well as products you use at home.  The goal is to strengthen the enamel and re-harden it.  This will often improve the appearance of the white spots, making them less obvious and blending into the surrounding enamel.

For white spots that do not blend in after the remineralization process, you may require additional dental treatment simply to achieve the best cosmetic appearance.  This may involve a simple tooth-colored filling bonded over the white spot.  Some dentists offer a treatment called resin infiltrant that can reduce the appearance of white spots.  Take-home kits of strong remineralizing products may produce the desired result over time.

There are multiple options, and your dentist will discuss the pros and cons of each option with you.

More Questions about White Spots on the Teeth?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our dentists.  We can answer any question you have about white spots, help you understand the exact cause of yours and discuss treatment options to correct them.