White spots on teeth should be distinguished from general yellowing or discoloration of teeth. White spots present with off-white, yellow, or even brown "mottled" areas on the teeth, whereas classic discoloration presents as a more uniform change in shade and appearance.
Looking in the mirror, you should ask yourself: Do I have generally yellow or brown teeth? Or do I have spotted teeth?
This difference is important because it implies specific causes of the color change, and therefore different treatments to fix the problem.
Your dentist may also refer to these speckled white spots as hypoplasia of the enamel, or hypocalcification.
A number of factors can lead to the development of white spots on teeth. Sometimes these spots are caused by nutrition, genetics, or an excessive intake of fluoride; other times they become evident after braces have been removed. Some children develop white spots as their teeth are developing.
Usually white spots that appear on the teeth are actually areas of decalcified enamel, and this problem can lead to the deterioration of teeth. Some dentists will tell you that the first evidence of tooth decay is a white-spot lesion; by this they mean that the tooth's enamel has taken on an opaque color in the area where a cavity is beginning to form.
White spots can appear after changes in the mineral content of the teeth -- which often happen in childhood and, if left untreated, leads to deterioration of enamel. White spots can also appear in connection with a condition called fluorosis, which is the result of excessive fluoride intake. People who live in areas where drinking water contains high fluoride levels often encounter this problem.
White spots are also common after having braces. People with orthodontic braces often have trouble properly brushing their teeth, and the result is a build-up of plaque. The acids in plaque can severely harm tooth enamel and eventually cause cavities. The first evidence of this type of tooth decay is the white decalcified enamel spots that become apparent when braces are removed.
Most people do not realize that having bright white teeth isn't necessarily a good thing. So, if you haven't been brushing and flossing, but you've noticed your teeth are getting whiter, keep in mind you might be well on the way to decay.
Your dentist can determine whether your spots are due to fluoride intake during childhood, to trauma, or to general staining because of poor oral care. A dental specialist should also be able to determine the age of the discoloration, based on its location and depth within the enamel of the teeth. You can find a certified dentist in your area using our handy Dentist Finder.