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Keep Your Teeth White, and Looking Younger

Prevent Teeth Stains

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Updated November 14, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Keep Your Teeth White, and Looking Younger

Simple brushing can prevent teeth stains

Sharon Basaraba

It just doesn’t seem fair: heart-healthy foods and beverages like red wine, dark chocolate, coffee, and berries can help keep your body young, but they may also stain and discolor your teeth, making you look older. If you want to prevent tooth discoloration – or if you’ve whitened your teeth, and want to protect that investment – here are some tips to keep those pearly whites, well - pearly white.

Two of the main threats to white teeth are acidic, and deeply-colored, foods and drinks.

Acidic foods: These are problematic for your teeth because they can erode the enamel, making teeth more translucent, which reveals the yellow-brown dentin underneath. The result: teeth with a yellowish hue. Acids in foods also soften tooth enamel, making it more vulnerable to abrasion, wearing, and staining.

Limit your consumption of sports and energy drinks, soda pop, and wines, including white wine, as these are all acidic. Teas and coffee can also have high acidity levels.

Deeply-colored foods: Many dark foods that are nutritious are unfortunately likely to stain your teeth. These include red wine, dark chocolate, teas, intensely-pigmented berries like raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, as well as colored sauces like tomato, curry, and soy sauce. Crushing berries and vegetables like spinach and kale in smoothies, further releases their pigment into the beverage, and onto your teeth. Soda pop and energy drinks containing dyes may also stain your teeth.

As dentist, and member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry Dr. Kellee Stanton told me in an interview, “If it will stain your tablecloth, or your tongue, it can stain your teeth.” Foods and drinks that are both dark, and acidic, constitute a double whammy against white teeth.

Sweet foods: Candy and other sugary foods threaten tooth whiteness by softening enamel and allowing plaque to develop.

What you can do: If you don’t want to limit your consumption of many healthy foods and beverages because they’ll stain your teeth, here what Stanton recommends:

  • Don’t let these foods and drinks linger in your mouth. The less time they spend on your teeth, the lower the chance of staining.
  • Rinse with water. If you love to savor your red wine, keep a glass of water nearby and swish immediately afterwards to rinse, then swallow.
  • Add crunchy fruits and vegetables to your salad plate, if you're eating berries that can stain. The crunchy foods will help cleanse your teeth.
  • Use a straw. Though not an appealing idea for wine drinkers, using a straw can help smoothies and juices bypass your teeth.
  • Finish a meal with a piece of cheese, or a glass of milk. These help neutralize the acid in foods, and contain calcium, which strengthens teeth.
  • Wait 30 minutes before brushing your teeth after eating acidic or staining foods. This gives softened enamel a chance to toughen up, so it’s less vulnerable to abrasion.
  • Brush teeth for a full 2 minutes, and use a high-quality electric toothbrush if it’s within your budget, to keep plaque off your teeth.
  • Floss regularly. This keeps stains from developing between teeth.
  • Chew sugarless gum, which increases saliva flow. This helps rinse your teeth. Gum which contains the artificial sweetener xylitol can help prevent cavities, just keep it away from your pets as it can be extremely toxic to dogs in particular.
  • Limit the use of whitening toothpastes to 1-2 times per week, as they can be abrasive.
  • Follow cautions from the manufacturers of home whitening kits. Using products containing peroxide too often can damage enamel, which can make teeth look grayish.
  • Use a toothbrush with soft bristles.

Since certain anti-bacterial mouthwashes and other medications like liquid iron supplements, and some antihistamines, can contribute to teeth staining, you may want to consult your dentist, or physician, about alternatives.

Sources

Annette Wiegand et al. “Abrasion of eroded dentin caused by toothpaste slurries of different abrasivity and toothbrushes of different filament diameter.” Journal of Dentistry, Volume 37, Issue 6, June 2009, Pages 480–484.

Victor J. Setien et al. "Clinical management of discolored teeth
." General Dentistry, May 2008 Special Issue
, Pg. 294-300.http://www.agd.org/publications/articles/?ArtID=3246

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