Skip to content

    Oral Care

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Foods and Habits That Stain Your Teeth

    By
    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS

    If your smile isn't as bright as you'd like, think about what you put in your mouth. You can stain your teeth if you smoke or if you eat or drink certain things, and it's more likely to happen as you age.

    But once you know what to eat -- and what to avoid -- you can keep your pearly whites bright and shiny.

    Recommended Related to Oral Health

    Can My Diet Help My Smile?

    Q: I know coffee stains my teeth, but are there any foods that will help keep them looking white and healthy? A: Regular brushing and flossing are your best bets for keeping your teeth healthy. But yes, certain foods can keep your smile looking bright by contributing to your overall oral health. For instance, foods that increase saliva production help wash food off your teeth as well as neutralize the acids produced by foods as you chew them -- acids that can erode tooth enamel and contribute...

    Read the Can My Diet Help My Smile? article > >

    What Causes Stains?

    "Tooth enamel [changes] as you get older," says Sally Cram, DDS. "Like a piece of pottery that gets fine lines [over time], the stain gets into the little cracks and crevices."

    You need to watch out for these three things:

    • Chromogens -- compounds with strong pigments that cling to enamel
    • Tannins -- plant-based compounds that make it easier for stains to stick to teeth
    • Acids -- these make tooth enamel softer and rougher, so it's easier for stains to set in

    Coffee, Tea, or Neither?

    You probably think the main cause of darkened teeth in the U.S. is a drink you brew for yourself in the morning. After all, more than half of Americans drink coffee every day. You can tell from its color that it's high in chromogens, and it's very acidic. Together, these factors help turn white teeth yellow over time.

    But it's not the worst culprit. That would be tea, which nearly half your fellow Americans drink every day. Not only is it full of acid, it also has tannins.

    "Tea causes teeth to stain much worse than coffee," says Mark S. Wolff, DDS, PhD, professor at the New York University College of Dentistry. "Iced tea or brewed tea -- it doesn't matter."

    If you have coffee or tea only after Sunday dinner, you're less likely to have stained teeth than if you drink three cups every morning.

    "To really have that big of an effect, it's really the frequency of intake that's going to make the stain," Cram says.

    What's In Your Glass?

    Red wine can be good for your health, but it's not ideal for a bright smile. Wolff says three factors work against it: It's very acidic, it has lots of tannins, and -- as its deep purple color suggests -- it's high in chromogens, which land on your teeth and stick to them quickly Wolff says.

    White wine has both acid and, despite its color, some tannins. It doesn't have its own color to stain teeth, but the tannins and acids make your teeth fair game for other types of stains. They're more likely to be stained by a tomato, a blueberry, or a strawberry, Wolff says.

    How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

    Number of Days Per Week I Floss

    Get the latest Oral Health newsletter delivered to your inbox!


    or
    Answer:
    Never
    (0)
    Good
    (1-3)
    Better
    (4-6)
    Best
    (7)

    You are currently

    Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

    You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

    You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

    Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

    SOURCES:

    American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

    This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

    Start Over

    Step:  of 

    Today on WebMD

    close up of woman sticking out tongue
    Sores, discoloration, bumps and more.
    toothbrushes
    10 secrets to a brighter smile.
     
    Veneer smile
    Before and after.
    Woman checking her bite in mirror
    Why dental care is important.
     

    Woman dissatisfied with granola bar
    Slideshow
    woman with jaw pain
    Quiz
     
    eroded front teeth
    Slideshow
    brushing teeth
    Video
     

    Variety shades of tea
    Slideshow
    mouth and dental instruments
    Article
     
    Closeup of a happy young guy brushing his teeth
    Tool
    womans smile
    Video