Why Is Your Tooth Turning Gray?

Posted on: 29 April 2019


Your teeth are meant to be white and beautiful. It's pretty normal for them to take on an increasingly yellow tint as they age, both due to the natural aging process and exposure to staining materials like coffee and wine. But what if one of your teeth seems to be turning gray? Is this something to be concerned about? What should you do? Read on to find out.

Why do teeth turn gray?

The most common reason why a tooth would suddenly start turning gray in adulthood is that the tooth has died. Your teeth contain living tissues, including blood vessels and nerves. When these tissues are alive and active, they have a pinkish color that is mostly masked by the white enamel on your teeth. But if these tissues die, they can take on a dark black or gray color, which is not so easily masked by the enamel. It then begins to look like your entire tooth is gray.

Gray teeth can also be caused by taking an antibiotic called tetracycline. However, in order for tetracycline to turn your teeth gray, you need to take it during childhood. So if a tooth has been white for most of your life and is just turning gray now, antibiotics are unlikely to be the reason.

Why do teeth die?

So you've concluded your tooth is dead. Now, you're probably wondering how it got that way. Teeth usually die as a result of infection, which may move from the gums into the tooth root, destroying the tooth's inner structure. Tooth infections usually cause symptoms such as pain, swelling of the gums, redness in the gums, fever, and intense tooth sensitivity. If you manage to forgo dental treatment for the infection, your body might eventually fight off the infection itself, leaving you without these symptoms but with a dead tooth. Not that it's not wise to avoid treatment for a tooth infection, but some people do not realize the seriousness of the situation and thus fail to make an appointment.

Teeth can also die as a result of trauma. If you were hit in the mouth or got in an accident that traumatized your tooth, this could have resulted in damage to the nerves and blood vessels leading into your tooth, eventually leading to tooth death.

What should you do about a gray or dead tooth?

There is nothing your dentist can do to remove the gray color or bring a tooth that's dead back to life. However, you should still absolutely see a dentist if your tooth is turning gray. A dead tooth is not usually strong enough to remain in the mouth on its own. Your dentist may recommend having it covered with a crown to give it extra strength. The crown will be made in a color that matches the rest of your natural teeth, so you won't see an ugly gray tooth anymore.

If your tooth was infected in the past or is still infected now, your dentist will probably also want to perform a root canal. This is a procedure in which the tooth's dead inner tissues are removed via a hole drilled in the top of the tooth. Contrary to popular belief, root canals are not overly painful. If the tooth's nerve is already dead, you won't feel a thing — and your dentist will give you a dose of anesthetic before they begin drilling, just to make sure. 

If a tooth in your mouth is turning gray, chances are the tooth is dead due to past trauma or infection. Make an appointment with your dentist. They can perform a root canal, if needed, and then cover the tooth with a crown that looks natural.