Translucent Teeth: 7 Reasons Your Teeth Look Clear

woman concerned about her teeth

Teeth are usually glossy looking and have some type of a sheen to them - transparency actually isn't the "normal look" for teeth. But if you have significant tooth enamel damage, it can look like you have translucent teeth. Some translucency—especially along the biting edges of your front teeth—isn’t all that abnormal. But when we have translucency on a large scale, it’s usually due to something physically happening to your teeth that’s causing structural damage to them.

Generally speaking, dentists and dental lab technicians actually want some translucency when it comes to repairing broken teeth. That’s why certain types of porcelains or ceramics are recommended for repairing your “smile zone.” If the material was completely opaque, it would stand out and look unnatural.

Why Do My Teeth Look Clear?

To understand why teeth look translucent or clear, we have to first break down the layers of a tooth structure. First, we have the enamel which is the outermost coating or “shell” that goes around the crown of your tooth (the part that isn’t covered by gum tissue.) Tooth enamel is some shade of white and is more transparent than any of the other tooth structures.

Next is dentin. Dentin makes up the bulk of your tooth. It’s the part under the enamel and that composes the majority of your tooth root. Dentin is yellow. Its shade and density impact the overall color of your teeth.[1]

Cementum is an extremely thin layer that goes over the dentin on the root portion (not the crown.) You typically cannot see it, but microscopically it’s there.

Out of all three of these layers, enamel is the most transparent. While it’s not typically “see-through”, it does have some transparency to it in that light can shine through or bounce off of the structure. It’s not completely rock solid to the point where light can’t penetrate that area.

If you have more translucent teeth than someone else, or you notice that your teeth are starting to be more clear than they used to be, it means some type of physical change is going on with these tooth structures.

7 Reasons Your Teeth Look Translucent 

If you have significantly translucent teeth, it is because of enamel damage. For whatever reason, the hard layer of enamel is thinning and eroding away. The reason this is so significant is that enamel is physically the hardest substance in your entire body. It’s harder than bone. If some outside factor is causing your enamel to erode, it’s not a matter to take lightly.

Once enamel is gone, you can’t get it back.

Below is a list of the most common causes of enamel erosion. By ruling out one at a time, you can be quick to identify what’s causing thinning teeth and enamel damage.

1. Acid Erosion  

Our mouths are made to hold up to acids from foods, drinks, and our gastrointestinal tract. But only to an extent. If you’re someone who tends to experience frequent heartburn, there’s a good chance that there will be hollowed-out areas of enamel erosion on the cusps of your teeth’s chewing surfaces. Acid erosion can also come from frequent vomiting, a highly acidic diet, illness, chemotherapy, or in someone who has an eating disorder. In many of these cases, the erosion tends to occur mostly behind the upper front teeth, causing extreme enamel thinning in that part of your smile. As the acid erodes the enamel, it will begin to look more translucent as well as yellow, because of the darker dentin underneath.

2. Celiac Disease

Celiac disease can impact your mouth in several ways. Ulcers are common, as well as delayed tooth eruption. But this disease can also cause physical deformities in tooth structure, such as lines in teeth and pitted enamel. It was estimated that as many as 97% of people with celiac disease will have some oral manifestation of the disorder.[2]

Much of the enamel damage is caused during tooth development, causing pitted enamel or even a complete lack of an outer enamel shell on the tooth.  

3. Brushing Too Hard

Did you know that it was possible to brush your teeth too hard? The top offenders are scrubbing too aggressively and/or using medium to hard-textured toothbrush bristles. Both can physically erode your tooth over time. The damage isn’t noticeable in weeks or months, but over the years it will start to catch up with you.

Aggressive toothbrushing doesn’t make your teeth healthier. In fact, it often skips over the plaque along the curves where your teeth touch one another. Plus, it’s also damaging to your delicate gum tissue, leading to recession and exposed tooth roots.

When you brush, only apply just enough pressure for your gums to blanch. Nothing more. And always use a soft or extra-soft toothbrush. Not firm!

4. Soft Drinks  

Soda, soft drinks, pop, or Coke (whatever you want to call it, depending on where you live) are loaded with ingredients that can erode tooth enamel. Not only are they full of sugar, but they’re also highly acidic. It’s a classic recipe for tooth damage.

Yes, teeth can withstand these drinks in moderation. But they can’t hold up to them if you’re sipping on them frequently over a long term basis. Diet soda doesn’t make it any better, either. Every time you drink them, your teeth are coated with erosive liquid. Now and then is fine. If you drink it through a straw, even better. But if these drinks are your normal routine 2-3 times a day, it’s going to catch up with you.[3]

And speaking of drinks that erode enamel, keep an eye out for sports drinks too. Some of them are physically worse on your teeth than any soda will be. Save them for when you truly need rehydration and electrolytes, but not for a short 30-minute workout.

5. Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

Your mouth needs saliva as a buffer around your teeth. Saliva helps neutralize acids, limit bacterial colonies, and makes food easier to swallow. But chronic dry mouth means you don’t have the saliva you need to make those things happen. If your xerostomia goes unchecked for too long, you’ll definitely see an uptick in enamel damage, not to mention tooth decay.

Xerostomia is typically due to medications that you’re taking. If you read the label, dry mouth is listed as a common side-effect on most over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

Dry mouth can also be caused by dehydration, increased caffeine intake (caffeine is a diuretic), and cancer therapy.  

The best way to prevent dry mouth from eroding your enamel and making it thin is to address the cause. If that’s not an option, increase your water and fluoride, rinse your mouth regularly, and invest in dry-mouth products such as lozenges and moisturizing mouth rinses.

6. High Sugar Diet  

Sugars feed bacteria. And when bacteria break them down for digestion, they secrete an acid byproduct onto your teeth. We usually call this byproduct “dental plaque”, but you could also call it “germ poop” because that’s basically what it is. The more sugar you eat and the more frequently you eat (or drink) it, the more acid byproducts there are going to be secreted.

All of those acids physically etch away at your enamel. Little by little, they erode the outermost layers of teeth, destroying the tooth structure. At a certain point, they will create a physical hole in the tooth itself. But the erosion can also be more generalized across the tooth’s surface, causing it to appear more translucent than it was in the past.

7. Gastrointestinal (GI) Problems

Sometimes we have underlying medical issues that cause our stomach acids to make their way back up to our mouths. Acid reflux disease is a classic example, but it’s not the only GI issue that can impact your teeth.

Maybe your digestive issue doesn’t bother you enough to see a physician or take a medication, but the potential damage it can cause should be reason enough. If these digestive disorders aren’t controlled with the help of medication, they can destroy your digestive tract, which includes both your esophagus as well as your mouth.

Stomach acid is extremely potent on teeth. If it’s frequently refluxing into your mouth, it will only be a matter of time before you see generalized erosion across all of your teeth. Similar to an eating disorder or cyclic vomiting, erosion from GI diseases will create a wider area of transparency across multiple teeth. There will also be hollowed-out divots on the cusps of back teeth.  

How To Prevent Translucency From Worsening?

The most important thing to use to keep translucent teeth from getting worse is incorporating a prescription-strength fluoride gel into your home hygiene routine. You’ll have to get a prescription from your dentist. An over-the-counter toothpaste typically isn’t going to be strong enough. The fluoride will help remineralize weak enamel and combat acid erosion to help preserve the tooth structure you still have.[4]

Obviously, you also want to address any of the causes listed above. That might mean changing your diet, seeing a physician to manage an underlying health condition, or swapping out your toothbrush.

And finally, increase your water intake. Water will help neutralize acids in your mouth to limit enamel damage. Even if you’re not sipping on it all day, make a point to go rinse your mouth out routinely. The rinsing alone will help cut back on acid erosion.

How To Fix Translucent Teeth?

Repairing translucent teeth is usually more of a cosmetic issue than a physical need. You would need to have some pretty significant structural damage before thinning teeth start to break down to the point you can’t eat with them. If that ever happens, your dentist will probably recommend a crown (“cap”) to cover multiple teeth at a time.[5]

Aesthetically, dental veneers are usually a good option for covering translucent teeth. Since they’re only bonded to the front of the teeth that show when you smile, you don’t have to physically alter any additional tooth structure. Veneers are less invasive than crowns, but they serve a cosmetic purpose as opposed to a functional one.

Talk To A Dentist 

If you have translucent teeth, you need to get to the bottom of what’s causing your enamel damage. Especially if you notice it happening fairly quickly. Before your exam, try to rule out any of the above-mentioned causes to help identify what the potential source is. Your dentist will be able to look at your mouth, ask you a series of several questions, and help you pinpoint the true cause of your erosion. From there, you can work together to decide if restorative treatment is required, or if there’s something you can try for aesthetic concerns. Bottom line, don’t wait until it gets too bad, otherwise, you run the risk of a deteriorating smile!