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Foods and Drinks that Stain Teeth

By Bruce Wilderman on December 17, 2013

Philadelphia Tooth DiscolorationIf you’re determined to keep your teeth bright and white, you may be surprised to find that avoiding stains takes more than just avoiding specific foods, such as wine, berries, and coffee. Some food combinations are also a problem and can actually intensify discoloration.

If you are concerned about stains, Dr. Bruce J. Wilderman serves the Philadelphia area and is skilled in reversing tooth discoloration with specialized treatments, including the KöR Whitening Deep Bleaching™ System. He also offers cosmetic dentistry and restorative dentistry for complete smile makeovers.

If you are determined to keep your teeth white, let a simple rule of thumb be your guide: If a food - like wine - stains a tablecloth, it has the potential to stain your teeth. The discoloration comes from chromogens in food, intensely pigmented molecules that attach to the enamel on teeth.

But color is not the only factor determining a food’s staining potential. Acidity also plays a role. Acid temporarily softens enamel making it easier for highly-colored chromogens to latch on. Even if the acidic food itself isn’t highly colored, such as a light-colored soda, it will soften tooth enamel and allow other foods to discolor your teeth.

A third staining factor is tannin, which promote stains by helping chromogens stick to tooth enamel.

Here are a few of the big offenders that discolor teeth. Understanding these may help you avoid the triple threat in foods:  Chromogens, acid, and tannins. 

  • Wine. Red wine is notorious for staining and for good reason; it’s loaded with acids, chromogens, and tannins. And white wine is not necessarily a safe bet either because it is more acidic then red. So while the white wine won’t stain, it will soften up tooth enamel and supercharge the staining ability of chromogenic foods.   
  • Tea. Black tea is rich in stain-promoting tannins. Some dentists think the tannins in tea may cause worse staining than coffee. Coffee, though rich in chromogens, does not have tannins. Herbal teas have also come under scrutiny. Recent tests indicate acidic herbal teas, such as citrus ones, damage tooth enamel.
  • Cola. Cola is both acidic and chromogen-rich, making it a prime source for staining. Switching to a light-colored soda doesn’t solve the problem since the acid still softens enamel, opening the door for other foods to discolor your teeth.
  • Sports Drinks. Just like sodas, sports drinks are acidic and soften up tooth enamel for other foods to cause discoloration.
  • Berries. Blackberries, cranberries, blueberries, cherries, pomegranate, and all intensely colored fruits cause stains. This includes the foods made with berries, such as pies and juice drinks.  

Preventive Care

If you can’t avoid foods that stain, try these tips:

  • Use a straw.
  • Swallow promptly.
  • Swish your mouth with water.

If you’ve eaten an acidic food, wait at least 30 minutes before brushing. This will allow your tooth enamel to re-harden and avoid damage to the enamel from brushing.

Learn More

If your teeth are dingy and you would like to learn more about teeth whitening, please call our offices. Depending on your situation, we can bring back your teeth’s natural color and teach you how to reduce staining in the future.

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