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.

Do Black Stains Protect Your Teeth from Cavities?

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 stains 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 reason why the stains are black is because of the specific minerals that are being absorbed. It is believed that excessive absorption of iron and copper gives these deposits their color.

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 calcium is used 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 mostly associated with minor demineralization, as opposed to developed cavities in the tooth enamel. However, Actinomyces are actually strongly associated with root cavities, so 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 gets incorporated into the tartar. If your tartar changes color and becomes darker, you should consider it a warning sign for receding gums and talk to a dentist.

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 stains are just tartar and not actual cavities.

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.