Enamel hypoplasia is characterized by the discolored appearance of teeth and can occur in baby teeth and/or permanent teeth. The condition varies in terms of severity — you can have one small spot of enamel hypoplasia on a single tooth or can have severely deformed enamel that changes the expected appearance of a tooth.

A tooth with dental hypoplasia will likely have spots that are white, brown or yellow in color. You also may have a lack of enamel in one area that causes the tooth to appear thinner when examined. You can potentially have enamel hypoplasia and not even know it, as enamel hypoplasia commonly occurs on your back molars where it is difficult for you to see the portion of your tooth.

Dental hypoplasia can closely resemble two dental conditions: decay and fluorosis. If your teeth have already erupted and the spot appears post-eruption, the discolored area can be a sign of decay. Fluorosis is another condition related to enamel hypoplasia, but is caused by exposure to excess amounts of fluoride during tooth development. A thorough evaluation and medical history may help to determine if these causes are to blame.

Causes of Dental Hypoplasia

A number of contributing factors can lead to enamel hypoplasia, and your dentist may never pinpoint the exact reason you experience the condition. For example, trauma to the tooth or gums during development may lead to enamel hypoplasia. The condition also can be hereditary or the result of an infection that occurs during pregnancy. Other enamel hypoplasia causes include:

  • Intubation of a premature infant
  • Pre- or post-natal malnutrition
  • Hypoxia or lack of oxygen to tissues
  • Toxic chemical exposure
  • Infection during infancy

Complications of Dental Hypoplasia

Dental hypoplasia is not always cause for concern. If the amount of hypoplasia is small, the condition may be little more than a cosmetic concern for you. However, significant enamel hypoplasia means your teeth are not protected. This can lead to increased risk for experiencing cavities and decay. You also may find your teeth are more sensitive in the areas where enamel hypoplasia occurs because the protective enamel is not present.

A thorough evaluation at your dentist’s office can help determine your hypoplasia’s severity. For example, your dentist will evaluate your teeth for overall health and strength and may recommend x-rays to rule out other causes that could potentially cause spots or thin enamel to occur.

Treatment for Dental Hypoplasia

Once dental hypoplasia has been identified, your dentist may simply recommend watching the area to ensure no decay is present. This makes careful attention to your oral health even more important. Daily brushing and flossing and regular trips to your dentist can protect your teeth and reduce the likelihood your enamel hypoplasia will lead to cavities.

If your dental hypoplasia occurs on visible teeth, such as your front teeth, but is not causing complications, your dentist may recommend cosmetic treatments to improve your tooth’s appearance. This may include a procedure known as microabrasion, which your dentist can use to abrade the tooth’s surface, followed by whitening to ensure the area blends in with the remainder of your tooth. Tooth bonding, or applying a tooth-colored dental material to your teeth, also is an option for covering small areas of discoloration or unevenness. However, if the enamel hypoplasia is more prominent, your cosmetic dentist may recommend veneers to cover the tooth.

If your enamel hypoplasia is more severe, however, your dentist may recommend applying a sealant, filling or crown over the tooth to protect it from decay and improve its appearance. Early intervention is vital to protecting your teeth. The sooner your dentist can diagnose and treat your dental hypoplasia, the less-invasive the recommended treatment is likely to be.