May 18, 2012

Foods That Stain Teeth: What NOT to Eat if You Want a White Smile

Everybody wants their smile to be as white as possible, right? And by now we’re all well aware of cosmetic dentistry’s various teeth-whitening options, from whitening toothpastes to bleaching.

White teeth and bright smiles may be marred by foods.

Keep a white, bright smile by watching what you eat and drink.

But keeping a white, bright smile can also depend on what we eat and drink. Knowing what those foods are, and why they can stain our teeth, can provide insights about how to keep teeth white.

There are a few factors that make certain foods stain-worthy. First are molecules called chromogens. These intensely pigmented molecules can easily attach themselves to dental enamel. Chromogens are found in red wine, coffee, colas, berries and sauces.

Foods and beverages with a high acidity level can also open the door to staining. Acidic products erode dental enamel and soften teeth for easier chromogen attachment. Other chromogen enablers, called tannins, are often found in tea, wine and berries.

Cosmetic dentistry follows a pretty simple standard regarding teeth staining foods: If you think it’ll stain your white tablecloth, it’ll probably stain your teeth.

Watching what kind of stain-enhancers you consume can enhance your smile for years to come.

Foods That Stain Teeth

Here are some foods and beverages to look out for:

  • Coffee/Tea: Tannins in teas are stain enablers, while coffee is rich in chromogens. Some dentists feel tea has the potential for worse staining than coffee because of the damage tannins can do to enamel.
  • Wine: Red wine is both acidic and tannin and chromogen-rich.  It’s a triple threat on the stain scale! White wine is a little sneakier, promoting an environment where other food compounds, like those found in teas, can better stain teeth.
  • Sauces: Watch out for soy, tomato and curry sauces, as well as any sauce that appears deeply colored.
  • Berries: Dark berries (blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, etc.) and the juices and foods made from them are going to contribute to teeth staining.
  • Sports drinks and colas: Both these drink types are highly acidic, even when they’re clear or lightly colored. Sipping one at your desk all day long? Don’t be surprised if your teeth start to stain.
  • Sweets: Cosmetic dentistry has another rule of thumb on this one: if it stains your tongue, it’s probably going to stain your teeth.

Tips to help keep your teeth whiter

So, are you going to have to give up your favorite soy sauce soaked sushi? Or cut out wine altogether? No! Here are a few simple tips to help keep your teeth whiter without having to eat or drink like a monk:

  • Practice a little moderation. If you find yourself consuming a lot of the foods listed above, think about cutting back or finding a non-staining alternative half the time.
  • Swallow. That’s right, when you swallow what you’re eating or drinking promptly, you minimize your teeth’s exposure to stain-causing foods.
  • Try a straw. Following the theory of limited exposure, using a straw can protect your front teeth, especially from staining beverages.
  • Follow up with a swish of water. Cleaning out your mouth after a meal is a good idea to avoid plaque build-up, generally. With regard to acidic foods and beverages, swishing with water is actually preferable to brushing after a meal because acids make teeth vulnerable for up to 30 minutes after they’re consumed. Brushing can contribute to damaging the enamel if done too soon after an acidic meal or drink.
  • Get chewing! Sugarless gum after a meal is an effective food particle and stain-agent remover.

Of course, you need to keep brushing and flossing daily, and avoid all the other things that can weaken enamel or cause staining (we’re looking at you, smokers and tobacco chewers). Your own personal approach to cosmetic dentistry (watching what kind of stain-enhancers you consume, that is) can enhance your smile for years to come.

What are you doing to protect your teeth against stains? How’s that working? Share your experience in a comment below!

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