If you ask your favorite search engine, you’ll discover there are about 27 million reasons why having white teeth is important. However, we think one reason stands out: looking and feeling your best.
The trouble is: many of the foods that promote tooth stains are also among the best choices for the vitamins and minerals essential to strong teeth and bones. Intensely colored foods such as dark red beets and many kinds of berries can leave behind substances that weaken or cling to tooth surfaces and lead to stains.
Let’s take a look at some foods and habits that can contribute to yellow or brown teeth. We’ll also look at ways you can minimize the potential for staining without cutting vital nutrients out of your daily diet.
The compounds that stain and discolor teeth
There are three primary components that contribute to tooth staining. These are: intense color, acidity, and the presence of tannins.
- Intensely colored foods and beverages: As a general rule of thumb, foods that are more intense in color have greater potential for staining your teeth. The reason? Dye-like molecules called chromogens that love to cling to enamel tooth surfaces.
- Acidic foods and beverages: Acid erodes and softens dental enamel, which makes it that much easier for chromogens to latch on and stain teeth. The foods and beverages that contain relatively high levels of acid may not be intensely colored at all – think white wine – but the acid-based erosion contributes to staining all the same.
- Tannins: The third member of the unholy trinity of stain-promoting agents is tannins. Tannins are found in a wide variety of foods and beverages (red wine is the poster child here). They work together with chromogens and boost their ability to adhere to enamel and stain teeth.
October is National Dental Hygiene month! Learn more at ADHA.org
Foods and beverages that stain teeth
Intensely colored, acidic, and tannin-rich substances come into contact with your teeth through a broad assortment of foods and beverages. Here’s a roundup of the types of food that are most likely to stain and discolor teeth:
- Colas and sports drinks: The combination of acidity and chromogens in many colas and sports drinks give these items considerable staining ability. The beverages may be light or dark in color and still contribute to staining simply due to the enamel softening effects of the acids they contain.
- Dressings and sauces: Like other deeply colored foods, some dressings and sauces can contribute to brown or yellow teeth. For example, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, ketchup, mustard, tomato sauce, curry sauce, and other deeply colored sauces can leave behind stains due in many cases to the dental double whammy: both acidity and chromogens.
- Intensely colored produce: Vegetables and fruits – and the juices, pies, and other foods and beverages made from these items – are rich in chromogens and can therefore contribute to tooth staining. Included in this category are beets, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, grapes, pomegranates, and raspberries, to name only a few.
- Tea and coffee: Most people know that frequent coffee consumption can stain teeth. They may not know the reason: coffee is rich in chromogens. Black tea, though, gets even worse marks from many dentists, not because of chromogens, but because it is so loaded with tannins.
- Wine: Red, white, rosé – whatever the shade of your favorite wine, there’s a good chance it may help dim the appearance of your teeth. That’s because even if they do not contain tannins (as red wines notoriously do), wines are acidic and can therefore weaken tooth enamel, making it easier for chromogens from other sources to do their dirty work.
5 tips for minimizing tooth stains
There are certain things that you can and should do to help prevent tooth staining and discoloration. If you don’t smoke or have quit smoking, congratulations! You’ve already taken one giant step towards keeping your smile as bright as possible.
Avoiding sweets and other foods and beverages with high amounts of intense coloring (such as coffee and tea, red wine, candies, popsicles, jams, jellies, and pies) makes sense for any number of reasons, not least of which is the effect these items can have on tooth color and whiteness.
But what can you do to minimize the staining potential of all those other things that are so good and, often, so good for you?
Here are our top 5 tips for minimizing tooth stains:
- Eat your greens first: According to some sources, certain foods like broccoli and lettuce help to protect teeth against staining when consumed first.
- Use a straw: Sipping darkly colored, acidic, or tannin-rich beverages through a straw can decrease the amount of time the liquids are in contact with your teeth.
- Swallow without too much delay: To minimize your exposure to stain producing compounds, avoid holding stain producing foods in your mouth longer than necessary for proper chewing and swallowing.
- Brush, but not right away: Immediately after consuming acidic or tannin rich foods or beverages, tooth enamel is softer and more vulnerable than at other times. To avoid damage to the enamel and wash away much of the potentially harmful residue, swish with water and wait about 30 minutes before brushing.
- Chew sugarless gum: A good way to fight stains after eating or drinking, chewing sugarless gum mimics the mechanical action of a toothbrush or floss to help remove stain-causing substances from tooth surfaces.
It can be easy to minimize the potential for tooth stains, but just be sure you aren’t also eliminating vital nutrients in the process.
How do you keep your teeth looking their whitest? Let us know in the comment section below!
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For more information about dental health, including a glossary of dental insurance terms and articles about oral health and dentistry, visit our dental resources pages.