Brown Spots On Teeth: Is It A Cavity Or Just A Stain?

Dr. Christopher Li Etobicoke - Li Family Dental

By Dr. Christopher Li

May 7, 2023

brown spots on teeth, cavities, teeth stains, teeth whitening

Brown spots on teeth:  Is it a cavity or just a stain? Many people from all walks of life who notice brown spots on their teeth have asked this question, and there can be many different answers. Naturally, the best course of action is to make an appointment with your dentist to find out for sure, but there are some clues that can help you figure out if that brown spot on your tooth is just an innocent stain or a cavity that requires professional attention.

The Difference Between Extrinsic & Intrinsic Stains

Before we get into trying to figure out if it’s a stain or a cavity, let’s explain the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic tooth stains.

Extrinsic tooth stains result from a particular type of staining agent penetrating your tooth enamel. Some possible causes of this type of stain are:


  • Tobacco use
  • Drinking too much coffee, tea, red wine, or soft drinks
  • Eating acidic foods

Quite often, extrinsic stains can be remedied using cosmetic dentistry services like teeth whitening or porcelain veneers.

Intrinsic tooth stains develop from inside the tooth. There are several potential causes of an intrinsic tooth stain, including:


  • Environmental and genetic factors
  • Root canals
  • Internal tooth fractures
  • Physical trauma to the teeth
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Taking certain medications
  • Taking in excessive amounts of fluoride

When you have an intrinsic stain, the underlying cause will have to be fixed, and then the stain may possibly be removed using cosmetic dentistry.

Can You Tell If It’s A Cavity?


Some people feel as though the slightest tooth sensitivity or spot is a serious cavity, while others can be in excruciating pain and still deny they have a problem. The best way to find out if that brown spot on your tooth is a cavity is to make an appointment with your dentist and have it checked. If you want to get a better idea yourself, there are a handful of signs that may indicate what you’re seeing is actually a cavity:

  • The appearance of a brown spot that is accompanied by tooth sensitivity
  • Visible pits or holes in your teeth
  • Spontaneous pain in your teeth that doesn’t seem to have a cause
  • Brown spots on your teeth that have no other explanation
  • Pain in a particular tooth when you bite down

Potential Causes Of Brown Spots On Teeth

Here is a more extensive list of all the things that can cause brown spots on your teeth. The list includes both dental and non-dental (lifestyle) causes, so you can have a better idea of what’s happening and how to proceed.

Non-Dental Causes


Certain Foods and Beverages – The list of foods and beverages that can stain your teeth is a long one, but most won’t create brown spots. If you eat copious amounts of berries, for example, you may end up with stained teeth, but it won’t be brown. Brown stains usually come from beverages such as coffee, tea, or cola.

Tobacco Products – Cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco all have the potential to create brown stains on your teeth.

Physical Trauma – Whether you’re playing sports, had a serious slip and fall accident, or you’ve been the victim of an assault, trauma to your mouth can damage nerves in your teeth, resulting in brown spots. In some cases, your tooth may turn completely brown if you suffered serious tooth trauma.

Normal Aging – The older you get, the higher the likelihood your teeth are going to become stained and discoloured. This is a common occurrence over time and can usually be remedied using modern cosmetic dentistry procedures.

Chlorhexidine Mouthwash – This prescription mouthwash helps treat gum disease, but one of the side effects is tooth discolouration.

Celiac Disease – One common side effect of celiac disease is tooth discolouration or brown spots on the teeth.

Genetics – Some people are genetically predisposed to having discoloured teeth, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have brown spots or stains on your teeth, this is a possible reason why your teeth aren’t as white as you’d like them to be.

Dental Causes


Tooth Decay – Poor dental hygiene is often the reason behind tooth decay, and it is a common cause of brown spots and discolouration. As the enamel in your teeth erodes, cavities can form and create unsettling brown spots on your teeth.

Tartar – Tartar is usually visible along the gum line, and forms when hardened tooth plaque doesn’t get removed when it needs to be. Keeping up with your regular dental visits will help keep tartar in check.

Fluorosis – Fluorosis is a condition that happens when you take in too much fluoride. It often happens in children, creating white spots on the teeth, but it can result in brown spots if it’s serious and your tooth enamel is pitted.

Enamel Hypoplasia – This condition occurs when your teeth don’t have enough enamel. There are a variety of causes, such as vitamin deficiencies, toxin exposure, or malnutrition during pregnancy, and it can affect one tooth or multiple teeth, appearing as brown or yellow spots that have a rough texture.

Old Dental Work – Older dental work, such as fillings, can end up staining your teeth as time goes by, creating brown, dull-looking spots.

Medications – Some antibiotics can result in staining of the teeth, especially in children. Brown spots may also be caused by a medication that’s used for neonatal diabetes. Sometimes, children can also get brown spots on their teeth if their mother takes certain antibiotics during pregnancy.

There’s no need to panic if you notice brown stains or spots on your teeth, but you should be proactive and find out the cause, just in case it can turn into something serious. Your dentist will know exactly how to proceed and will either fix your cavity or give you options to remove the surface stains, so you look and feel wonderful.

Give us a call at 416-232-2033 or request an appointment by clicking here.

Dr. Christopher Li

About the author

Doctor Christopher Li, DDS
Dr. Chris, as he is affectionately known, is a licensed dentist with over 20 years experience. His caring personality makes even the most tentative person at ease. Patients are constantly commenting about how Dr. Chris is incredible at delivering pain-free freezing, and how he has an amazing chair-side manner.  Dr. Chris loves sharing information with his patients and everyone who has teeth about how to care for their teeth, avoid tooth decay, and the treatments available to help them overcome their tooth pain or other dental issues so they can enjoy life and food to its fullest!

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