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.
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.
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.
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
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This study also indicated that energy drinks seem to have higher acidity and enamel dissolution associated with them than sports drinks.
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 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
“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.
Stain prevention tips
- Reduce or avoid stain-causing culprits. While not the most popular option, cutting back on stain-causing food and drinks can help prevent tooth discoloration.
- Brush your teeth after consuming a tooth-staining food or drink. Make a point to brush and floss soon after you’ve consumed food or drinks that can discolor your teeth.
- Swish with water after consuming a tooth-staining food or drink. If you can’t get to a toothbrush right away, rinsing your mouth with water can help wash some of the substance away. Just make sure the water washes over your teeth.
- Drink through a straw. When drinking dark-colored juices, coffee, tea, sodas, or energy drinks, consider using a straw. This can prevent the liquid from making contact with your teeth.
- Avoid tobacco products. Talk with your doctor if you need help cutting back or eliminating tobacco products.
- Try an in-office whitening procedure. Your dentist can whiten your teeth with an in-office whitening procedure that uses high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. Your dentist can also make custom trays that deliver prescription-strength whitening gel to your teeth. With this at-home treatment, you’ll wear the trays for up to 1 hour a day for a few weeks to whiten your teeth.
- Try an over-the-counter whitening kit. An over-the-counter whitening kit can help lift some stains, but these products don’t work as well as dentist-prescribed whiteners.
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.