6 Foods That Stain Your Teeth (And What to Eat Instead)
Nobody wants stained, discolored teeth. A bright smile can make you more confident, and makes anyone appear more youthful. Though darkening teeth is a natural part of aging, some of the things you eat and drink every day can also be staining your teeth. So what foods should you avoid, and what can you eat instead?
When it comes to those teeth-staining foods you just can't live without, I'll also talk about how you can keep enjoying them and maintain white teeth.
First, let's look at why certain foods stain (and even damage) your teeth.
How Acid in Food Affects Your Teeth
The first thing to know is that acid isn’t something you want hanging out in your mouth very long. Your teeth are covered by hard tissue called enamel, which keeps them strong. Acids eat away at the enamel and expose little holes in it, making it look more like the surface of a sponge. When your enamel is porous, it absorbs stains more easily and can make you more prone to cavities. Something acidic and brightly colored, like cherries, are doubly dangerous. They can damage your enamel and stick to your teeth. Our saliva naturally neutralizes acids, which is great, but it takes about 20 minutes for our mouths to reach a neutral state after eating.
Your best defense against acidic, staining foods and drinks? Water! Not only does it keep you hydrated, but it also rinses away damaging acids and staining particles. You might be tempted to brush your teeth right after eating something acidic, but you may be better off drinking and rinsing with water right after you enjoy that glass of wine or cup of Earl Grey to minimize and neutralize the acids first. Then, 20 to 30 minutes later, brush with a fluoride toothpaste to help strengthen the enamel and help undo the damage caused by the acids.
Here are 6 foods that stain your teeth, and some suggestions for how to keep your teeth white:
1. Black Tea (and Coffee)
Believe it or not, black tea stains your teeth worse than coffee! That’s because black tea contains more of a natural class of compounds called tannins. Tannins stick to your teeth because they’re attracted to the protein in enamel. (Coffee contains tannins too; just less.)
Solution: Drink green or white tea, as they are lower in tannins. Or lighten your tea or coffee with milk to reduce its tooth discoloration potential. As a bonus, some green tea has fluoride in it, and mint tea can freshen your breath.
2. White Wine
Like tea, wine contains teeth-staining tannins. Red and white wine are both hard on your teeth, but white wine actually has more acid than red! So drinking white wine makes your teeth more likely to absorb stains from anything else you’re eating at the same time.
Solution: Rinse your mouth with water after that glass of wine. Or eat a protein like cheese along with it, which will help protect your teeth and keep them white. If possible, brush your teeth half an hour later.
3. Carbonated, Energy, and Sports Drinks
Soda, Gatorade, Monster energy drinks -- these all are bad news for your teeth. They not only have a high acid content, making your teeth vulnerable, but they’re also high in sugar, so cavities are practically inevitable.
Solution: Try to drink less of these drinks, or drink water afterwards. If you’re an athlete using sports drinks for electrolyte replacement, consider a natural alternative, like coconut water. If you can’t quite kick the habit, sip acidic drinks through a straw to keep them away from your teeth.
Tip for athletes: Wearing a mouthguard one of the most important things you can do to protect your teeth.
4. Berry Pie
Berries -- as well as red wine and brown soda -- contain chromogens. What are those? They’re vivid pigments that stick to your teeth. This means that big slice of cherry pie can leave your pearly whites not so white. The same goes for similar fruits like cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, grapes, and pomegranates, as well as fruit juice. These are all foods that stain teeth.
Solution: Continue to eat berries, just in moderation (hey, they’re still good for you). Try fruits and veggies like pineapple, pears, cauliflower, apples, and cucumbers, which help keep teeth white by boosting saliva production.
5. Curries and Tomato Sauce
Sad news for anyone who likes pizza, spaghetti, or lasagna. Not only are curries and tomato sauce highly saturated, color-wise, but they’re also acidic (especially tomato sauce). Sounds like a recipe for tooth discoloration, right?
Solution: If possible, try alfredo or white wine sauce instead. If you can’t stay away from that yellow curry or Italian dish, eat spinach beforehand, which can help counteract the acid. Or pop in some sugarfree (or, better yet, Xylitol) gum afterwards.
6. Balsamic Vinegar
Before you drizzle that balsamic vinegar on your tomatoes and mozzarella, know that it too can discolor your teeth. According to Prevention, “In one recent study, teens who ate vinegar-heavy foods had a 30 to 85% increased risk of enamel erosion.”
Solution: Veggies! Lettuce is one food that can counteract the effects of vinegar. So save vinegar for a salad dressing. Or munch on broccoli before. Like spinach, it coats your teeth, protecting them from vinegar’s effects.
The Take-Home Message?
Eat the foods you love, just know the risks. I could never tell anyone not to enjoy their morning coffee. Just try to drink it all in one sitting, rather than sipping all day long, to keep the acid and staining (and therefore the damage to your teeth) to a minimum. The same goes for staining foods. Water is your best bet when it comes to neutralizing acids and rinsing away the stain. If you’re still noticing your teeth are not as bright as you would like them to be, talk to your dentist! Or check out these 7 simple tips for whiter teeth.