Tetracyclines were first introduced in 1948 and were used to treat many common bacterial infections. Tetracycline has been widely used to treat urinary tract infections, respiratory tract infections, acne, and gonorrhea and other infections, and were used on children from the 1950s until 1980.
One of the side-effects of tetracyclines is its ability to bind into tissues that are beginning to calcify, including teeth, cartilage, and bone causing permanent discoloration of both the primary and permanent teeth. One of the side-effects of minocycline, a tetracycline drug, is the occurrence of “black bones”, “black or green roots”, and a blue-grey to grey darkening of the crowns of permanent teeth. Because tetracyclines cross the placenta, the effects of the drug cross over to the child in utero, causing permanent staining . Many adults also suffer from the results of tetracycline stains on their teeth, which may be reversible.
Typically grey or brown, the tetracycline stain will either cover the entire tooth or appear on the tooth as horizontal stripes.
While tetracycline is still used today, doctors take certain measures to prevent staining of the teeth by not prescribing it for young children whose teeth are still developing, or expectant women. Because of the ability of tetracycline to bind to the calcium phosphate in young children’s teeth and be absorbed, there is concern that the dental enamel of the affected teeth can make the teeth susceptible to dental decay.
After teeth have fully matured, tetracycline can be safely used as an antibiotic.