If you are concerned about yellow stained teeth, you’re not alone. A lot of people who use well water complain their teeth go yellow, and some have to resort to cosmetic dental whitening.
Well water can turn your teeth yellow if it is contaminated by certain chemicals, metals or semi metals. Teeth can be stained a variety of colors depending on the contaminants in the water.
This article discusses the most common cause of yellow staining on teeth, the various contaminants that may cause teeth to be stained and how staining can be removed.
Does Well Water Turn Your Teeth Yellow?
If well water is contaminated, it may stain your teeth a variety of colors including yellow.
The quality of well water can vary greatly, depending on the geographical location and the depth of the well (ref 7).
It is estimated that 49% of the U.S. population depends on groundwater for its drinking water supply, from either a public source or a private well (ref 4).
Ground water in many ares of the U.S. has excessive amounts of iron, especially if the water is acidic (ref 10).
Why It Turns Teeth Yellow
Tooth discoloration is a frequent dental finding, and during the past decade, the demand for aesthetic dentistry has grown dramatically (ref 5).
An increasing number of people are concerned about staining on their teeth and how they can eliminate these stains.
There are lots of reasons for teeth becoming stained. One of the reasons may be the quality of drinking water.
Access to safe water supplies are of growing concern to the public and global health organizations (ref 4).
Water may be contaminated with chemicals that may be metals, semi-metals or non-metals such as aluminum, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, lead, copper, cobalt, chromium, iron, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, selenium and zinc (ref 1).
Iron and manganese ions, commonly found in groundwater, are the most common materials in the Earth’s outer layer.
Excessive levels of such contaminants consumed in water can affect the color of teeth.
Experiments on human enamel show that this hard mineralized tissue is permeable to various ions and molecules (ref 5).
For example, the use of products containing high amounts of iron or iodine can cause a black pigmentation of teeth.
Exposure to sulfide, silver nitrate or manganese can cause stains ranging from grey to yellow, brown or black.
Copper or nickel can produce green stains. Cadmium may be associated with pigmentations, ranging from yellow to golden-brown (ref 1).
Which elements can stain my teeth?
- Iron, manganese, and silver (Industrial exposure) may stain teeth black.
- Mercury and lead dust produces a grayish stain.
- Copper and nickel Green can produce a blue-green stain.
- Chromic acid fumes often produce a deep orange color in enamel.
- Iron-containing drugs (in solution form) used for treatment of iron deficiency anemia produce black stains.
- Iodine solution may induce a brown discoloration.
- Potassium permanganate produces a violet-black stain.
- Nickel, Sulfide, Manganese can cause gray to yellow, brown or black staining
- Cadmium produces from yellow to golden-brown stain.
- Silver nitrate produces a black stain.
- Stannous fluoride induces a brown stain.
- Fluoride produces yellow to brown staining and patches.
Does Fluoride and Dental Fluorosis cause yellow teeth?
Dental fluorosis is the most common cause of tooth staining. Dental fluorosis is itself caused by a long-term ingestion of fluoride during the tooth formation period (ref 6).
Fluoride in drinking water originates from natural sources or is added to protect dental health.
Depending on the severity of the fluorosis, the color of the teeth may appear yellowish brown, ranging from light brown to dark brown, or almost black.
Fluoride is present in virtually all water, and it is important to know the fluoride content of your water supply, particularly if you have children.
Only children aged 8 years and younger are at risk because this is when permanent teeth are developing (ref 3).
Is it safe to brush your teeth with well water?
The quality of water from private wells is not regulated by a government agency, and this creates concerns for public health.
23% of private wells in the United States exceeded a human-health benchmark for one or more contaminants (ref 11).
Unregulated wells typically have more contamination issues than regulated wells because they may not be as deep, may be located in different aquifer or geologic zones, and may be less soundly constructed than municipal wells (ref 8).
Well water is generally safe for brushing your teeth or washing dishes and clothes (ref 9).
You should test your well water for contaminants at least yearly or biannually.
Additional information on testing the water quality of private residential wells can be found on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site (ref 3).
Can ‘Hard’ water turn your teeth yellow?
‘Hard water’ is a term used to describe water which has an excessive amount of certain minerals, such as high concentrations of calcium or magnesium carbonates, chlorides or sulphates.
The term hardness was originally applied to waters that were hard to wash in. Water that prevents soap from being effective typically causes the buildup of hardness scale in cooking pans.
The hardness of water depends on its source.
Groundwater that has been in contact with porous rocks containing deposits of minerals such as limestone or dolomite will be very hard, while water from glaciers or flowing through igneous rocks is much softer.
Whilst hard water can cause problems with appliances and pipes, the elements that cause hard water are not known to stain teeth.
How to get rid of well water stains on my teeth?
The treatment for tooth staining consists of identifying the cause and severity of the staining and implementing the appropriate fix.
Scaling and polishing of teeth using prophylactic paste (Amazon link), applied with a rotating rubber cup, may remove many external stains.
For more stubborn external and internal stains, various bleaching or preventative techniques may be used (ref 2), such as:
- A whitening toothpaste.
- Using tooth brushing and flossing techniques.
- Avoiding the foods and beverages which cause stains.
- Using over-the-counter whitening agents.
- ‘In-home’ whitening agents, purchased from your dentist.
- ‘In-office’ whitening procedures. If you get your teeth bleached at your dentist’s office, it may take one or more visits.
- Bonding. A dentist or prosthodontist fuses material to stained areas of your teeth to change their color or shape.
- Partial veneers (e.g. laminate veneers).
- full-coverage veneers.
While uncontaminated well water does not cause teeth staining, contaminated well water may stain teeth a variety of colors.
It may also contain excessive levels of chlorine that can cause fluorosis in children under the age of eight.
Thus, it is important to test your well water regularly if you have children under eight years of age.
The good news is that it is safe to brush your teeth in well water even if there are low levels of contaminates.
1. Rebelo de Sousa, Kathleen, Marília J. Batista, Juliana Rocha Gonçalves, and Maria Da Luz Rosário de Sousa (2012)”Extrinsic Tooth Enamel Color Changes and Their Relationship with the Quality of Water Consumed” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 9, no. 10: 3530-3539.
2. Babakhanov, Albina, BS, RDA. (Jan/Feb 2019): Dental Assistant; Chicago Vol. 88, Issue. 1, 9-10.
3. Division of Oral Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (2019) September 17, Fluoridation and private wells.
4. Hu, Zhihua, Lois Wright Morton, and Robert L. Mahler (2011). “Bottled Water: United States Consumers and Their Perceptions of Water Quality” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 8, no. 2: 565-578.
5. Manuel ST and , Abhishek P and, Kundabala M (2010) Etiology of tooth discoloration- a review, 18 (2). pp. 56-63.
6. Souza, Consuelo & Junior, Jos & Adriano, Soraya & Sampaio, Fabio. (2012). Systemic Methods of Fluoride and the Risk for Dental Fluorosis.
7. Azoulay A, Garzon P, Eisenberg MJ. Comparison of the mineral content of tap water and bottled waters. J Gen Intern Med. 2001 Mar;16(3):168-75.
8. Jones, L., Credo, J., Parnell, R. and Ingram, J.C. (2020), Dissolved Uranium and Arsenic in Unregulated Groundwater Sources – Western Navajo Nation. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education, 169: 27-43.
9. Arsenic in wells. Department of health fact sheet.
10. USGS. Groundwater. U.S. Geological Survey General Interest Publication.
11. DeSimone, L.A., Hamilton, P.A., Gilliom, R.J., 2009, Quality of water from domestic wells in principal aquifers of the United States, 1991–2004—Overview of major findings: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1332, 48 USGS Circular 1332 Quality of Water from Domestic Wells in Principal Aquifers of the United States, 1991–2004. Overview of Major Findings