Thousands of Australians use antibiotics every year. While these medications can help people recover from dangerous medical conditions, antibiotics can also lead to unwanted side effects. Tetracycline is a type of antibiotic that Australian doctors sometimes prescribe, but the drug can sometimes cause tooth staining. Find out what you can do if you or someone you love suffers tooth staining as a result of tetracycline.

Why doctors prescribe tetracycline

Tetracycline antibiotics prevent the growth and spread of bacterial infections. While these antibiotics are not suitable for colds and viral infections, this medication is effective against problems like pneumonia and other respiratory infections. Tetracycline is also suitable against the bacteria that can cause painful stomach ulcers, and doctors also prescribe the drug to fight off some sexually-transmitted diseases like gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

However, tetracycline is not a suitable option for everyone. For example, the drug can interfere with some birth control pills, and pregnant women should generally avoid this type of antibiotic, as the drug can cause developmental problems and teeth discoloration. Nursing mums should also avoid the antibiotic. If tetracycline gets into your breast milk, the drug could affect your baby's bone and tooth development.

As such, doctors normally only prescribe these antibiotics for adults. Unfortunately, children who use the drugs can development problems that result in severe tooth discolouration as they age.

How tetracycline stains teeth

Tetracycline causes problems when a child's teeth are going through their natural mineralisation or calcification stages. The initial calcification of a child's primary teeth takes place between weeks 14 and 19 in utero, but the process is not fully complete for several years after birth. During any period of calcification, tetracycline can bind to calcium ions in the teeth. In turn, this chemical reaction leads to discolouration that continues into adulthood.

The colour of the stained teeth can vary. If the problem occurs before eruption, the teeth will become fluorescent yellow. After exposure to light, this colour changes to brown. What's more, discoloured teeth often have different bands of colour, which occur at different stages in the development process.

Other antibiotics can have a similar affect. For example, ciprofloxacin can stain the teeth green, although the discolouration is not normally as severe as the symptoms associated with tetracycline. In either case, by the time the child reaches the age of 18, he or she will often find the discolouration embarrassing, and he or she will want to look for solutions to deal with the issue.

Whitening options

There are several treatment options for adults with tetracycline-stained teeth.

Conventional tooth bleaching is not normally effective because the chemical reaction that stains the teeth discolours the dentin layer beneath the enamel. Bleaching agents applied to the enamel cannot reach discoloured dentin.

Internal bleaching is sometimes an option. If you have had a root canal treatment, a dentist can place bleach inside the tooth where the root canal took place. Nonetheless, internal bleaching isn't possible if you haven't had a root canal treatment. In this instance, bleach would harm the live tissue (pulp) inside the tooth.

Tooth shaving can sometimes help. In this instance, a dentist will shave off the outer layer of the tooth. He or she can then place a white filling on the front surface of the tooth. This option isn't suitable for everyone. For example, if there are already structural problems, this type of treatment could further weaken the tooth.

Other cosmetic options

If whitening options are not possible, other cosmetic options are available.

If the tooth is otherwise strong and healthy, a porcelain veneer could help. With a veneer, the dentist will remove some of the outer enamel of the affected teeth. He or she will then bond a tiny layer of porcelain to the tooth.

A crown is the other main cosmetic option. This option is suitable for people whose teeth have other problems that make them unsuitable for a veneer. For example, a root canal treatment can weaken the tooth in such a way that it could cause problems if the dentist tries to remove any enamel.

Tetracycline can cause severe, permanent staining to your teeth, but standard tooth bleaching treatments are unlikely to help. Contact a local dental clinic like Alexander Heights Dental Care for more information about the options available to you.