In general, a healthy smile is a beautiful smile, and vice versa. But in some cases, some very unattractive features might be associated with better health. That’s the case with black stains on teeth, which are generally linked to a lower cavity risk.

mature man shows off his bold smile?

What Are “Black Stains”?

Black stains seems like a generic term, but among dentists, the term has a fairly specific meaning. It refers to a black line that is found at the neck of the tooth, where it enters the gums. Depending on the case, the line might be solid or dashed, several disconnected black dots or a thick line. At first, these stains may seem like cavities, but they’re not. They’re also not normal tooth discoloration related to foods and beverages.

These black lines on teeth are actually just a form of tartar, also called dental calculus. Tartar forms when oral plaque absorbs minerals from the saliva and essentially becomes fossilized. This buildup won’t be removed by brushing or other home hygiene procedures. It has to be removed as part of a professional cleaning.

The specific minerals absorbed by your tartar makes these black lines. Excessive absorption of iron and copper creates these black marks on teeth.

Telling the Difference between Black Stains and Cavities

How do you tell the difference between black stains, cavities, discoloration, and other tooth problems? The biggest difference is that black stains are a buildup on your teeth, but cavities are a hole in the tooth. Can’t tell the difference just by looking? Use your tongue or a tool that’s safe for your tooth (such as a toothpick or flosser) to feel the dark area. If it’s built up from the tooth, it’s a black stain. If it’s a hole, it’s a cavity.

A black stain that is neither built up nor a hole is likely discoloration. Usually, discoloration spreads all over your teeth. Localized discoloration could be caused by habits that stain teeth in a particular area, like smoking. Or staining might collect because a tooth is damaged: chipped or cracked enamel collects stains.

And, of course, don’t confuse black stains or cavities with old metal amalgam fillings that turn black. When the silver filling rusts, it becomes black. This doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy, but it does mean it’s unattractive. Which makes it a strong argument in favor of tooth-colored fillings.

The Stains Don’t Actually Protect Your Teeth

It’s important to understand that black stains themselves don’t actually protect your teeth from cavities. Instead, they’re associated with a lower cavity risk because they develop in mouths where conditions help protect your teeth from decay.

Many people develop black tartar as children. These black stains tend to develop in people whose saliva contains high levels of calcium. This high calcium level makes it more likely that tartar will trap discoloring elements. But high calcium levels also help your saliva neutralize acid better. There’s a reason why we use calcium for antacids–it’s a powerful ion for buffering acids.

Liquid iron supplements can also cause your tartar to turn black.

The other condition associated with black stains is predominance of Actinomyces species of oral bacteria. These bacteria are less likely to cause cavities, they mostly cause minor demineralization of tooth enamel. However, Actinomyces can cause root cavities. The tooth root is more vulnerable to cavities, so Actinomyces can cause major damage there. This could be a problem if you develop receding gums.

Receding gums are also the cause of black tartar for some people. When bacteria damage your gums, they bleed, and this blood supplies extra iron that the tartar absorbs. If your tartar changes color and becomes darker, you should consider it a warning sign for receding gums and talk to a dentist. Receding gums don’t just put your teeth at risk, they can create unattractive black triangles between teeth.

More Frequent Cleanings Can Control Black Stains

If you experience black tartar stains, there are easy treatments available. The simplest is to just increase the frequency of your regular dental cleanings. That will allow us to remove the tartar before it builds up and creates a visible stain. More regular dental cleanings can also help protect you against gum disease, which leads to receding gums. And it will allow us to check your teeth to make sure the black spots on your teeth are not cavities. Remember, it’s not the stains themselves that protect teeth. It’s the conditions that create the stains also protect your teeth. Removing the stains improves the appearance of your smile and doesn’t put your teeth at risk.

If you are unhappy with the appearance of black stains or other problems with the appearance of your smile, please call (949) 551-5902 today for an appointment with an Orange County cosmetic dentist at Rice Dentistry in Irvine.