Why Do I Have White Spots on My Teeth?

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The development of white spots on the teeth—clinically called "decalcification"—can be distressing. These deposits are common, arising due to plaque and tartar build-up, insufficient enamel, and following orthodontic treatment, among other factors.

Like other dental issues, decalcification can be a precursor to worse problems, such as gum diseases, cavities, gum recession, and tooth loss.

This article will explain what the white spots on your teeth are, their causes, common treatments, as well as what you can do to prevent them.

Orthodontic Treatment

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What Is Decalcification?

When bacteria are left on the teeth for a long time, they form plaque and tartar, producing organic compounds and acids as they digest sugars. Over time, these acids start to break down tooth enamel (the outer layer of the tooth), leaching out calcium and other minerals. This leaves behind permanent white spots or patches of discoloration on the teeth.   

Causes

White spots appear on the teeth when the tooth’s enamel starts decomposing due to plaque. However, a wide range of cases can bring this erosion on and lead to decalcification. Here’s a quick overview of common causes.

Diet

What you eat and drink has a huge influence on the health of your teeth. A number of dietary factors have been linked to decalcification, including:

  • Highly acidic foods and drinks: Citrus, sodas, and other highly acidic foods can significantly damage enamel and increase the likelihood of white spots.
  • Insufficient calcium: Calcium, which is critical for dental health, can be found in milk and dairy, among other sources. If you don’t get enough, decalcification can result.
  • Insufficient phosphorous: Phosphorous is another essential mineral for enamel health, and white spots can emerge if you don’t consume enough. Dietary sources include chicken, turkey, pork, organ meats, seafood, seeds, nuts, dairy, and whole grains.

Protecting Your Enamel

To prevent plaque buildup and white spot formation, it’s a good idea to be aware of foods that can damage your teeth. These include:

  • Sticky foods, such as hard or soft candies
  • Sodas and carbonated beverages
  • Starchy foods, such as bread, pasta, and potato chips
  • Substances that dry the mouth, such as some medications, alcohol, and tobacco.

If you do consume these, make sure to brush or clean your mouth soon afterward to prevent problems.

Fluorosis

Fluoride, a common ingredient in toothpaste and often included in drinking water, is generally beneficial for dental health. However, in children ages 8 and younger, excessive exposure to fluoride over a prolonged period of time causes a condition called “fluorosis.”

In its mild form, fluorosis is characterized by white spots on the teeth. Much rarer are more severe cases, which cause pits in the enamel.

Braces

Cleaning your teeth is more difficult when you wear braces, making it easier for plaque to build up. It’s little wonder, then, that white spots can emerge after these are taken off, especially if you haven’t been able to keep up with proper oral hygiene during your treatment.

Plaque Buildup

Plaque is a thin, sticky substance that contains bacteria. Build-up of this material is a common issue, and among other negative effects, this can cause decalcification. Proper flossing and brushing removes most plaque; although, even with good oral hygiene, regular professional dental cleaning is the best way to prevent it from collecting.

Enamel Hypoplasia

Enamel hypoplasia is when tooth enamel doesn’t form properly, causing it to be thin, pitted and more prone to cavities. This is a common cause of white spots.

Many cases are inherited, arising due to genetic diseases, smoking or nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy, low birth weight, or premature birth. Additionally, those with poor nutrition, cerebral palsy, liver and kidney problems, and upper-respiratory or urinary tract infections, among other conditions, may also experience decalcification.

Calcium Deposits

If plaque on the teeth isn’t removed, it can harden to form calcium deposits. Commonly known as tartar, they can cause decalcification and gum disease, leading to tooth loss, cavities, and abscesses if untreated.

Sleeping With Mouth Open

The saliva (or spit) in your mouth helps protect your teeth from damage brought on by bacteria and plaque. Dry mouth increases the risk of white spot formation (alongside other issues). People who sleep with their mouths open are prone to this and are therefore at risk for decalcification.

Treating White Spots on Your Teeth

While there’s a lot you can do to prevent the formation of white spots on your teeth, only dental treatments can remove them after they’ve appeared. You and your dentist have a range of options to choose from.

  • Microabrasion: This is a conservative treatment for white spots or other minor cosmetic issues. With this technique, the dentist rubs a solution of hydrochloric acid and pumice to remove stains from the teeth. This painless, non-invasive procedure is well-tolerated and leaves your teeth shiny and white.
  • Whitening or bleaching: Another option for white spots is tooth whitening or bleaching, which can even out the color of your teeth. This can be done in a dentist’s office or using at-home kits designed for the purpose. However, if you have a dental crown or veneer—or if your teeth are yellow or gray—this approach might not be successful.     
  • Veneers: Thin caps placed over the teeth, veneers are another popular option for taking on white spots or other cosmetic issues. They're highly durable and specially designed to fit in with your smile. They can also correct other issues like chips or cracks. 
  • Chin strap: Also used to help with sleep apnea (snoring at night), specialized chin straps can be worn to keep your mouth closed at night. This can be helpful in cases of decalcification due to dry mouth and can work as a preventative measure.
  • ICON resin infiltration treatment: This is a minimally invasive procedure that involves removing the outermost layer of the tooth enamel, drying out the white spots, then applying the ICON resin infiltration solution to fill in the pores of the tooth.

Prevention

Preventing white spots from forming on your teeth primarily means keeping up with good oral hygiene habits. What are some things you should do? Here’s a breakdown:

  • Proper brushing: Brush thoroughly twice a day. Dentists often recommend using an electric (rather than a conventional) toothbrush. Change the brush or brush head regularly and use fluoride toothpaste.
  • Flossing: To ensure you’re getting food residue from areas between the teeth, floss at least once a day. Water flossing may also be an option.
  • Dietary choices: Lowering sugar intake and steering clear of acidic foods can help protect your teeth.
  • Fluoride: Use toothpaste with fluoride, as this can help strengthen teeth.
  • Calcium supplements: Taking calcium supplements can be another means of promoting your dental help and preventing white spots.

Summary

White spots on the teeth, or decalcification, can be caused by various factors, including diet, plaque or tartar build-up, braces, fluorosis, enamel hypoplasia, and sleeping with your mouth open.

There are a variety of treatment and preventive measures used for decalcification. However, the biggest factor in ensuring you don’t develop white spots on your teeth is keeping up with good oral and dental hygiene. This means not only brushing twice a day and flossing daily, but also making sure you go to dental check-ups and cleanings regularly (every six months).

A Word From Verywell

While it can be tempting to think of white spots on your teeth as merely a cosmetic issue, they can be signs of bigger problems. If you or your child experiences these, it’s important to be proactive about seeking out care. Talk to your dentist about options to brighten your smile—and help your teeth—today.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Mark Gurarie
Mark Gurarie is a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct lecturer of writing composition at George Washington University.