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Your morning mocha or favorite spaghetti dish may be doing more than providing fuel, nutrition, and calories to your daily diet. Over time, foods and drinks with a dark pigment and high acidic content can also lead to stains on your teeth.

So what types of foods and beverages are the biggest tooth-staining culprits? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the top offenders that can cause your pearly whites to lose their sparkle and become discolored.

Red wine

According to Joseph Salim, DMD, acidic foods and drinks like red wine can roughen and open up the pores within the enamel of your teeth.

“As the enamel becomes rougher and its overall surface area increases, this can pave the way for the colors found within foods and beverages we consume to become etched to the surface of your teeth,” Salim says.

He explains that this phenomenon can happen when drinking red wine. The acidic nature of this beverage can “etch” the enamel and allow the dark red particles of wine to adhere to its surfaces.


Your morning brew might be one of the main culprits behind your stained teeth.

Coffee contains tannins, a type of chemical compound called a polyphenol, that can cause color compounds to stick to your teeth.


Like coffee, tea contains tannins that can stain your teeth. The good news is that there’s a simple way to cut down on tea’s tooth-staining abilities.

One 2014 study found that adding 2 percent milk to tea can significantly reduce the ability of tea to stain teeth. More specifically, researchers determined that casein, a protein in milk, was responsible for preventing tea-induced stains.

Berries and fruit juices

Blackberries, blueberries, pomegranates, and other dark berries contain a dark pigmentation that can cause staining on teeth.

Salim says tiny organic particles can penetrate the pores in your tooth enamel and remain attached. If your teeth have a higher porosity, this will lead to more persistent stains. That’s why your teeth can turn purple and may continue to have a purplish hue after eating blueberries.

Like deep-colored fruits, dark-pigmented juices — like cranberry, grape, beet, pomegranate, and blueberry — can also discolor your teeth.

Dark cola

Regularly sipping on a can of sugar-laden cola can also cause your teeth to become discolored. That’s because acidic drinks like soda can cause erosion of your enamel.

“When enamel is eroded, it won’t only make the tooth more susceptible to staining. It will also allow the dentin of the tooth, which is naturally darker and yellower than the enamel, to show through,” Salim explains.

Energy and sports drinks

According to one 2012 study, both energy drinks and sports drinks are associated with the breakdown of enamel, which contributes to stains.

This study also indicated that energy drinks seem to have higher acidity and enamel dissolution associated with them than sports drinks.

Tomato-based sauces

If you want to keep your pearly whites looking their best, you may want to take precautions when eating tomato-based sauces like the kind you typically have on pizza or spaghetti.

Not only are tomato-based sauces bright in color, but they’re also acidic. Rinsing your mouth out with water after eating this kind of sauce can help prevent your teeth from getting stained.

Soy sauce and balsamic vinegar

Dark-pigmented sauces like soy sauce and balsamic vinegar are also known to stain teeth.

According to Rene Y. Dell’Acqua, DDS, the high acid content in foods like vinegar can cause the enamel to break down, allowing a stain to set in.

“Basically anything you put into your mouth that can stain a linen napkin has the ability to cause stains on your teeth,” she says.

Sweets and candy

Sweets and candy, especially dark varieties like chocolate, can cause mild staining to your teeth, Salim says.

Additionally, a lot of hard and gummy-type candies contains colored dyes that can settle on your enamel.

Your favorite foods and beverages might not be the only thing to blame for tooth stains. If you’ve noticed discoloration on your teeth, the following offenders could be responsible, too.

Tobacco products

Tobacco stains can be caused by smoking cigarettes, pipes, cigars, or chewing tobacco.

Salim explains tobacco products can affect the color of your teeth because of the presence of the following two chemical compounds:

  • nicotine, which is colorless but gives teeth a yellowish color in the presence of oxygen
  • tar, which is naturally dark

Certain medications

“You can get intrinsic stains from antibiotics such as tetracycline if taken before the age of 7,” says Jennifer Jablow, DDS.

“Tetracycline chelates the calcium deposition while your adult teeth are forming. This can cause bands or stripe-like dark discoloration that can be very hard to get rid of,” she explains.

Wear and tear

Wear and tear on your teeth over time can also cause your teeth to look discolored. After years of brushing your teeth, the enamel gradually wears down and gets thinner. This allows the yellowish-colored dentin underneath to show through, which can make your teeth look darker and stained.


An infection in your tooth’s pulp — the soft core or tissue beneath your tooth’s enamel and dentin layers — can cause your tooth to become discolored.

Advanced tooth decay can cause a breakdown of the pulp which, in turn, can damage the root of your tooth and give it a grayish-black appearance. A root canal may be needed to clean out the decay and infection.

Trauma to a tooth

Trauma to a baby tooth can affect the growing adult tooth, which can sometimes make the adult tooth look yellow if the enamel doesn’t form properly.

Trauma can also make an adult tooth look darker if the enamel chips away, exposing the naturally yellower dentin layer underneath.

Preventing stains — or at least minimizing them — is possible with a few at-home tricks and tips. If you’re dealing with stubborn stains and discoloration, you may need to see your dentist for an in-office procedure.

Food and drinks with darker pigments, tannins, or high acidic content can lead to tooth staining or discoloration over time.

The good news is you don’t have to give up your favorite foods and beverages to keep your teeth looking good.

By brushing your teeth after eating and drinking, swishing with water, practicing good dental hygiene, and opting for tooth-whitening procedures or kits, you can help ensure that your smile stays white and bright.