Teeth, much like the white sweaters we spill our tomato sauce on, get stained when you eat foods with color pigment. "The enamel of teeth contains small irregularities. If food containing dark color pigment gets embedded in the enamel and not cleaned off immediately, it will cause a semipermanent stain. This type of stain is called an extrinsic stain, meaning the stain is in the enamel of the tooth," explains Dr. Greg Gelfand, DDS.
There are many foods that cause staining. "These include coffee, tea, wine, beets, soy sauce, curry, berries, and many more," says Dr. Gelfand. To avoid staining, you should brush your teeth after consuming any foods that stain your teeth. "If you're unable to brush right after eating, then you should rinse with regular water to allow some of the stain-causing pigment to exit your mouth," says Dr. Gelfand.
Also, after you brush your teeth, you should wait at least 30 minutes before consuming any dark or acidic foods and drinks. "During brushing, you remove a thin 'biofilm' that is present on your teeth, making the enamel vulnerable to stains in the initial 30 minutes after brushing," says Dr. Gelfand.
You can help prevent staining by consuming beverages like coffee, tea, sports drinks, or juice through a straw. This way, the liquid does not have a chance to come in contact with the front of your teeth. Naturally, the best way to prevent staining is not to eat foods that can stain your teeth.
Cosmetic dentist Lawrence Fung, founder of Silicon Beach Dental, recommends "avoiding things that have a darker color/pigmentation and are acidic. For example, red wine is one we all know of, but things like curry or — what's been pretty popular as of late — turmeric can cause staining as well. Curry and turmeric have such deep pigmentation that constant exposure will start to cause color accumulation." How do you prevent it? Aside from using a straw, brushing at least twice a day and having water to rinse with after consumption of these foods will help.
"Having a diet that's high in acidic food, like orange juice, makes the enamel more likely to get stained," says Dr. Gelfand. That includes artificial sweeteners, as well. These are generally acidic.
"The deep hue in blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and blackberries, in particular, can cause staining, regardless of whether they are eaten whole, drunk as juice, or processed as jelly and jam," says Dr. Adam Salm, DDS. The best way to prevent these stains, which are often seen in children, is to ensure brushing and flossing occur shortly after consumption. "One technique that has roots in ancient times is known as 'oil pulling,' which involves rinsing with coconut oil daily. The contents of the oil wrap around the particles that cause staining and loosen off the enamel to leave the smooth tooth surface less susceptible to stains," adds Dr. Salm.
Did you know that white wine is actually worse for your teeth because the acidity breaks down the enamel on your teeth, leaving them more susceptible to stains? Here's why you should swish water around between sips, according to Dr. Sivan Finkel: "Alcohol causes dryness, which ultimately causes plaque to stick to our teeth. Swishing water around between sips can help to keep us hydrated and helps to avoid that buildup of plaque." If you're a red wine kind of person, swishing water between sips will eliminate any red stains that might leave you with a tinted smile.
And, of course, the same rules for wine and other dark colors apply to your morning coffee. Drink it with a straw or try to rinse your mouth soon after. It's all worth it for that morning buzz!