My son almost knocked one of his front teeth out while horseplaying in the pool a few summers ago. Back then, he was seeing a pediatric dentist who suggested we take a “wait and see” approach. She thought it would heal up on its own and it seemed to have, but it’s turning a grayish color now. He graduated to seeing the family dentist who says the next step is getting a root canal because the tooth is dying, and that it’s up to us whether we want to do it right away or wait until the tooth starts hurting. I’ve never heard of a root canal whitening a tooth. Has the process changed over the years?
Did the dentist say the tooth was dying or that it was already dead? That’s an important distinction. True, it can take months or years for a tooth to turn gray after trauma. The coloring is a common symptom of the blood flow being cut off or nerve being severed. But, most people do have other symptoms and, for the dentist to indicate the tooth is presently dying with no symptoms beyond a color shift, it’s a bit unusual. You wouldn’t want a root canal if the tooth is vital and not infected and there are other things that can cause gray discolorations. Let’s go over this a bit.
Many Things Can Cause Teeth to Go Gray
While trauma is perhaps the likely culprit here, it’s important to remember there are lots of potential causes of gray teeth. Although some of the following won’t apply to your son, a detailed list is provided below for others following along too.
- Decay: Cavities can cut off blood flow just like trauma can.
- Dentinogenesis Imperfecta: Although rare, this hereditary disorder weakens teeth and can turn them a bluish-gray color.
- Tetracycline: When children under 8 receive this antibiotic or expectant mothers take it, it can turn developing teeth gray.
- Restorations: Metal tooth restorations, such as amalgam fillings and crowns, can discolor teeth too.
- Aging: Sometimes teeth take on a blue-gray hue as a person ages.
- Root Canal Medications and Materials: Certain medications used to disinfect during root canal treatment can turn the tooth a brownish-gray color. Sometimes the inert filling used to fill empty chambers after a root canal, or cement used, can cause discolorations as well.
Get Clarification from Your Dentist or a Second Opinion
Color alone does not signify the tooth is dead or dying. Find out what he’s seeing beyond the coloration and what condition he thinks the tooth is presently in. It may be a good idea to get a second opinion before starting treatment too.
A Root Canal Will NOT Whiten a Tooth
A root canal is the next step if the tooth’s nerve is dead or the tooth is infected, but that’s only because a dead tooth will eventually develop an infection. Think of it like a stagnant pool of water. Bacteria gets in there and thrives until you have a raging infection. It’s no fun at all! You don’t want to let it get to that point, so if your son has other signs the nerve is no longer vital, it’s best to move forward with the root canal as soon as possible.
With that said, a root canal won’t do anything about the color of the tooth. For that, you’ll want to explore cosmetic options, such as internal bleaching (performed by a dentist) or a veneer. Best of luck to you and yours.
This blog is sponsored by Dr. Raymond Bolt, an Auburn, AL dentist providing pediatric dental services and emergency dental care.