Dentists work daily to help people have clean, straight, pain-free teeth, but for many people, their #1 priority is actually the color: “How can I have whiter teeth?” In fact, the American Association of Orthodontists found that 90 percent of patients ask for tooth whitening in the office.
When it comes to foods that stain your teeth, coffee and red wine are known culprits. But they’re not the only foods that can dim the brightness of your smile.
How Foods Discolor Your Teeth
The outer coating of each tooth—known as the enamel—is hard, calcified tissue that protects the more fragile portion inside, according to the American Dental Association. Although tooth enamel seems like a shield, it’s not immune to everything—especially not the food and drink it’s exposed to multiple times a day.
“Teeth are porous,” says Jennifer Jablow, DDS, dentist in New York City. “Like the skin has pores, your teeth have pores.”
Pigment from food can attach to the enamel, resulting in short-term staining, or even seep into those pores for a more permanent stain that’s harder to remove.
The Foods that Commonly Stain Teeth
The more intense the color pigment of the food is, the more of a stain it might leave. Deep, rich colors like the burgundy of red wine or the crimson of cranberry juice are obvious offenders.
These foods are known for staining teeth:
Soda, especially cola
But that doesn’t mean less colorful foods are off the hook: “Believe it or not, even white wine will stain your teeth,” says Dr. Jablow. “It has a little bit of coloration in it.” Her rule: If a food can stain a white t-shirt, it can stain your teeth.
Other foods can contribute to a yellow smile in other ways, regardless of their pigment. Acidic foods, like soda and citrus, can wear down enamel and make your teeth more vulnerable to staining. Eating oranges is obviously good for you, but sucking on citrus repeatedly may expose your teeth to too much acid and ruin your white smile.
How to Enjoy Your Favorite Foods and Prevent Stains
By no means should you ditch berries and beets just for a whiter smile. “You can’t stay on an all-white diet,” says Dr. Jablow. “You should enjoy your foods, and not shy away from foods just because they have color.”
After all, fresh fruits and veggies in a variety of colors contain important nutrients that actually help keep teeth (and bones throughout your body) stronger and healthier. Calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin C are all great micronutrients for your smile, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here are top sources of calcium, and here are top sources of vitamin C.
Here are ways you can minimize staining caused by foods, according to Dr. Jablow.
Drink water after eating or drinking a tooth-staining item. This flushes out the pigment that sticks to the enamel. (Bonus: It also helps flush away bacteria that cause bad breath.)
Use a straw to keep high-pigment liquids from staining your front teeth. “Most of the stain will bypass [your front teeth] and go to the back of the mouth,” says Dr. Jablow.
Eat fibrous, crunchy foods like apples, celery, and carrots to minimize the amount of pigment that sticks to teeth. These foods work a bit like a nature’s toothbrush. “I wouldn’t necessarily say they would whiten [teeth],” says Dr. Jablow, “but they will help remove any substance that’s stuck to the surface of the teeth.”
And of course, don’t forget to practice good oral hygiene every day. Find out how bad it is to not brush your teeth twice a day, and check out the dangers of never flossing.