Do your teeth often feel like they are covered in sandpaper? Have your children complained of a gritty feeling on the surface of their teeth? Do you experience an increase in dental decay and cavities? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might have what people call ‘chalky teeth.’ In many cases, this may be a matter of simple oral hygiene. However, in some cases, it can indicate a problem with your enamel. Chalky teeth can be a sign of a serious problem known as enamel hypoplasia or hypomineralization.
What are chalky teeth?
If you experience a chalky feel to your teeth, first look at what you have been eating. Foods high in oxalic acid, such as strawberries, chocolate, nuts, and leafy greens, mix with the calcium to form tiny crystals on your teeth. It can cause a chalky feeling when this occurs, but this is usually addressed with brushing or mouthwash.
However, if you are not eating these foods and this is happening with your child or the chalky feeling persists after brushing your teeth, it could be enamel hypoplasia and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Enamel hypoplasia occurs when the enamel of the teeth does not fully develop or develop with a decreased mineral content. This results in teeth that feel soft and chalky. While this most often occurs in children, it can also develop in adults.
Causes of chalky teeth
As we mentioned, temporary chalky teeth can occur due to the foods you eat. However, enamel hypoplasia can occur due to a variety of causes. Tooth enamel develops in the womb, and when something affects that development, the enamel does not form correctly.
Premature birth, low birth weight, or nutritional deficiencies
Infants born prematurely have a higher risk of developing chalky teeth due to the interruption in development. The main portion of calcium and phosphorus stored in the teeth accumulate during the third trimester of pregnancy. When interrupted by an early arrival, premature infants often do not have completed enamel growth.
In addition, babies born at full-term but with lower than average birth weights also experience a higher risk of chalky teeth. In many cases, this low birth weight can result from pregnancy complications or other developmental issues.
Because enamel development occurs in the first three years of life, proper nutrition is essential for enamel development. Malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies, such as vitamin A and D, can increase the risk of chalky teeth. In addition, regular antibiotic use during these early years can also contribute to enamel hypoplasia.
Certain genetic conditions can also affect enamel development and lead to chalky teeth. Some of these conditions can include:
- Amelogenesis Imperfecta
- Usher Syndrome
- Seckel Syndrome
- Heimler Syndrome
- Ellis-van Creveld Syndrome
- Treacher Collins Syndrome
- Otodental Syndrome
Your mother’s health and actions during pregnancy can also contribute to poor enamel development. Excessive weight gain, poor nutrition during pregnancy, vitamin D deficiencies, drug use, and smoking can all contribute to chalky teeth. Gestational diabetes can also be a contributing factor to enamel hypoplasia.
Outside factors during enamel development or later in life can also contribute to chalky teeth. This can include severe infections, dental trauma, liver disease, vitamin A, C, D, calcium deficiencies, cerebral palsy, hypoparathyroidism, and celiac disease.
Signs and symptoms of chalky teeth
In addition to that chalky feeling on your teeth, enamel hypoplasia can also cause numerous other signs and symptoms. While some of these symptoms can be visible in the mirror, other symptoms are only detected by your dentist. Because chalky teeth can lead to severe dental problems, it is essential to seek treatment as soon as possible. Some symptoms to look for include:
- White spots
- Fissures, pits, tiny grooves, or depressions on the tooth
- Hot and cold sensitivity
- Staining on the surface of the tooth, often off-white, yellow, or brown
- Irregular tooth wear
- Increased bacterial build-up on the tooth
- Increased dental decay and cavities
Chalky teeth treatment
If you have chalky teeth, the first line of treatment is always a good oral hygiene routine and regular dental visits. Because enamel hypoplasia increases your risk of tooth decay and damage, treatment focuses on protecting the teeth and reducing that risk. Your dentist may recommend fluoride treatments, tooth caps to protect the teeth, and dental crowns to repair any damaged teeth. While fillings are possible, they are designed to adhere to healthy enamel, so they are not always a possible treatment option.
In cases of tooth discoloration, your dentist may recommend tooth whitening treatments to help improve the appearance of your smile.
How to prevent chalky teeth
If you suspect you or your child may have chalky teeth, it is important to visit your dentist immediately, as early detection can help reduce your risk of tooth damage. While hereditary enamel hypoplasia cannot be prevented, there are some things you can do to help reduce or reverse environmental causes. For example, talk with your doctor about adding vitamin A or D supplements or increasing the amount of green, leafy vegetables and milk to your diet to help strengthen your teeth.
Early detection can make a big difference
If you are experiencing chalky teeth, the professional and caring team at New Leaf Rohnert Park is here to help. Visit us online or call the office today at (707) 586-1549 to schedule an appointment and let us help you keep your teeth healthy and your smile beautiful!