Recently a new patient came in and told me an area on one of this front teeth has been yellow for a long time, and asked if anything should be done.  So I examined the area and informed him of some treatment options. But it may be helpful to know why a particular area on the tooth is discolored so an appropriate treatment can be recommended.


  • There is an older composite or resin filling and the filling has gotten yellow over time. This typically may be due to age as the filling wears away from the tooth, or the filling may have stained due to age and use.
  • The tooth has a cavity, as some cavities may appear to have yellow or brown discoloration.
  • There may be external stains on the tooth, typically due to a diet high in blueberries, red wine, cigarettes, coffee, tea, or some spices
  • There is an old amalgam (silver) filling and part of the filling has deteriorated.
  • Part of the the tooth may have broken off, exposing an inner layer of the tooth (dentin). Portion of the tooth may appear brown and/or yellow.
  • There may be gingival recession, causing part of the root to be exposed. Root surfaces typically appear yellow.
  • Perhaps the tooth had teeth whitening done, and this allowed the tooth to be whitened while leaving the existing filling intact, which would not be whitened and would be matched against the original tooth color.


Depending on why the tooth is colored, the treatment will vary greatly.  If the cause is due to extrinsic food stains, then a dental cleaning may all that may be required.  If the cause of the discolored tooth is an old composite filling, then a new tooth colored filling may be indicated. If it’s due to tooth decay or a broken, then a filling would be indicated. If part of the tooth broke off, then either a filling or porcelain crown may be indicated, depending on much tooth has broken. If the discolored tooth is due to gingival recession, then a gingival graft to cover up the yellow root surface may be appropriate.

So, going back to the patient I alluded to earlier, it was determined that the patient pointed to an old tooth colored filling that had discolored with time due to micro leakage of bacteria. A new tooth colored filling of a lighter shade was place after removing the old filling, and the patient left happy with a new filling.

If you have any questions on why a tooth is discolored, be sure to discuss with your family dentist on its causes and possible treatment options.
Dr. Chien