What Causes Stained Teeth?
Adult smiles generally tend to dull with age and no longer project the youthful bright white shades they one did. Part of this trend is because tooth enamel eventually wears away, causing cracks to form across the surface of teeth. These cracks make it easier for stains to get a secure hold in your pearly whites.
If you’re wondering where these stains are coming from to begin with – and you’re thinking back to the anti-tobacco ads you saw as a teen – your hunch has got you on the right track. All tobacco products, whether smoked, chewed, or inserted into part of the mouth for a period of time can lead to severe staining.
Hopefully, you aren’t using tobacco products. But even without inviting these nicotine-laden supervillains onto your turf, you are probably allowing a lot of other potentially-staining products into your mouth.
How do Foods and Beverages Stain Tooth Enamel?
Think of it this way: if a food or drink can stain a white table linen, it can stain your enamel. So, while this is an imperfect analogy because your teeth are made up of a different substance than your tablecloth, it is an easy general guideline to remember.
Super-stainers tend to be dark in color and usually have one or more of the following compounds:
Chromogens: These are intensely pigmented compounds found in foods like coffee and red wine. Chromogens adhere readily to the enamel of the teeth, and have the ability to interact with other stain-causing compounds.
Tannins: The good news about these compounds is that they contain antioxidants. The bad news is that these antioxidants come in the form of a strong, dark, vegetable dyes which stain teeth. Wine and tea are both sources which are high in tannins.
Acids: Acids aren’t responsible for the actual colorants which adhere to teeth. However, they break down the surface of tooth enamel, making it weak and porous. Think of acids as little building companies which set up tiny condominiums in your teeth for stains to move into. Highly acid foods include sports drinks, sodas, and candies – even the versions of these products which are sugar free will dangerously erode teeth.
Which Foods and Beverages are the WORST Enamel Stainers?
1. Coffee and Tea
Coffee and tea are often pointed out as culprits for dingy teeth, and for good reason. But which of the two is worse? As you can tell from coffee’s deep color, this beverage contains lots of chromogens. Coffee also has a low pH level, meaning that it is highly acidic as well. Knowing what you know about coffee, it may surprise you to learn that tea is just as poor of a choice as coffee, as far as stains are concerned. This holds true whether the tea is served hot or iced. Like coffee, tea is also very acidic. The most important reason why tea is such a problem-maker for your pearly whites is that tea is full of highly-staining tannins.
Just by visually comparing a glass of Merlot to a glass of Chenin Blanc, you can probably make a pretty good inference about which of the two will be the most likely to stain your teeth. Both red and white wines are acidic and contain tannins. However, if you’re not trying to dye your teeth while enjoying a relaxing dinner out, the white wine is the better option. This is because white wines do not contain the chromogens which red wines do.
3. Soft Drinks
Sodas tend to be portrayed pretty often in dental literature or in health magazines as a product which consumers would do well to avoid. Because sodas cause dental discoloration, we are putting them on the “naughty list” once more. Even clear, lemon or lime flavored sodas can contribute to discoloration because the acids in these products eat tiny holes into the enamel of the teeth, allowing stains from other products to set in.
4. Brightly Colored Foods
If you’ve ever looked at your tongue after enjoying a jawbreaker or a popsicle, you know that the artificial colors added to foods can be very aggressive. And if you have any exposed roots from gum recession, this is a favorite area for the unnatural hues of these products to hang out. To a lesser extent, brightly colored natural foods can have similar effects to artificially colored candies. For example, grapes and pomegranates are high in tannins and berries and tomatoes are high in chromogens.
What Can I do to Fight Back Against Stains?
It may seem a little surprising – and depressing – to learn that so many foods can impact the color of your enamel. We certainly don’t want you to miss out on your veggies either!
Here are a few tips to keep your smile looking bright:
1. Rinse with water or brush your teeth after every meal, especially if you are consuming products high in chromogens and tannins.
2. Use a straw with your beverages to minimize the contact the liquid has with the teeth.
3. Come in for a visit. Your dentist can help buff out fine cracks in the enamel where stains can become more prevalent. Your dentist should also be able to give you some detailed options for correcting highly stained teeth.