Why Swimming Can Turn Your Teeth Brown

For many of us recreational swimmers, the swimming season is over. But if you swim for exercise, conditioning, or competition, swimming is a year-round occupation. And if you swim multiple days each week, you may have noticed that your teeth are becoming discolored. This is known as swimmer’s calculus.

Swimmer’s Calculus

dreamstime_s_21705201Calculus is another name dentists have for tartar. (We do that a lot: such as cavities and caries.) In a broad sense, calculus is a build-up of hardened mineral deposits that accumulate on your teeth.

The normal, common type of calculus is caused by bacteria living in your mouth. As these bacteria die, their bodies become infused with and even replaced by minerals–it’s the same process of fossilization that preserves dinosaur bones–which makes them impossible to remove with a toothbrush. This type of calculus tends to accumulate in places where it’s hard for you to reach when brushing or flossing, such as along the gum line or in the back corners of your mouth.

Swimmer’s calculus isn’t caused by bacteria, though. Instead, it’s caused by contact with swimming pool water, which has a normal pH of 7.4 to 7.6, which is less acidic than your saliva and can cause dissolved material in your saliva, which normally helps remineralize your teeth, to deposit on your teeth, creating dark brown deposits.

A Harmless Problem

When people come in our office about this problem, they are often worried. They often think that the chlorine is eroding their teeth, but in a properly maintained pool the pH is too high to damage your teeth.

In fact, we can clear up the condition as part of your normal oral hygiene visit, scraping it away as we do with bacterial calculus.

How do you know if you’re experiencing this type of calculus, or if the deposits you’re seeing on your teeth are potentially destructive bacterial calculus?

  • Activity: Swimmer’s calculus only affects people who spend many hours a week in the pool.
  • Color: Swimmer’s calculus tends to be darker in color, more yellow or brown, while bacterial calculus is more often pale yellow tending to grey or white.
  • Position: Swimmer’s calculus accumulates on the front teeth, often at the tops and in the middle of the visible surface, where pool water is more likely to enter the mouth. Bacterial calculus tends to accumulate at the gum line and far back in the mouth where you have a harder time reaching with your toothbrush.
  • Inflammation: People with swimmer’s calculus may also have gum disease, but they’re not associated. Bacterial calculus, on the other hand, is more likely to have gum redness and swelling nearby.

Once deposits become noticeable, it’s a good idea to make a visit to our office. No matter what kind of calculus you have, we can remove it. Please call 303-759-5652 for an appointment with a Denver cosmetic dentist at Park Meadows Dental Care.