We all dream of pearly whites, but it's dang near impossible to have pristine teeth all the time. If you eat or drink just about anything, chances are you're probably going to notice some teeth discoloration.
Luckily, for the most part, tooth discoloration is fairly harmless, albeit extremely annoying. What matters is your gum health and teeth sensitivity. "You can have white teeth that can literally fall out of your mouth and are not supported because the gum health hasn't been monitored," says Tyrone Rodriguez, DDS, director of the pediatric dentistry program at Yale New Haven Hospital and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. To make sure you're staying up to date with your whitening program (and your dental hygiene in general), he suggests seeing your dentist regularly to make sure that your gums and teeth are healthy. And of course, follow proper brushing and flossing guidelines.
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The causes of tooth discoloration vary, and it's not just food and drink, smoking, or not brushing your teeth (but seriously, brush and floss). According to the Cleveland Clinic, other causes include some diseases that affect the enamel, radiation and chemotherapy, some medications, age, genetics, trauma (like a fall), and environmental sources (too much fluoride from water). It's important to note that if you are following all the whitening treatment guidelines and aren't seeing much improvement, you'll want to see your dentist to see if it's a sign of something else.
But, if food and drink are the main culprits for discoloration for you, of course, you can avoid certain eats, but where's the fun in skipping a glass of red wine or a cup of coffee? Luckily, there are some other precautions you can take, too. First things first, you may feel like brushing your teeth immediately after you consume something that's staining (like wine or coffee), but you should actually wait about 30 minutes. "When things are really acidic your enamel is softer, and as a result you can cause it kind of wear away faster," Rodriguez says. So, by being too quick to brush your teeth, you might actually be brushing the pigment into the enamel. While you're waiting for the 30-minute mark to pass, Rodriguez suggests rinsing with water, or chewing sugar-free gum, which is kind of tacky, like tape, and not abrasive.
There's not much you can do to prep your mouth before you eat or drink anything that discolors teeth, but Rodriguez says sipping beverages through a straw can help. And another surprising (but also a favorite) new trick we learned? Cheese can act as a palate cleanser of sorts. "It's going to provide calcium and ways to kind of neutralize the acidity," Rodriguez said. So the next time you're hemming and hawing about getting that cheese plate with your happy hour wine, consider it as an essential to your teeth whitening regimen.
And as for the food and drinks to watch out for, Rodriguez listed a few for us below.
This is probably not surprising to you. Wine is acidic, which will soften your enamel, enabling the red tint to stain your teeth. You don't have to swear off that glass of Malbec, just swish some water after, or use the gum trick. And this is here the wine and cheese combo comes in handy, too.
Another no-brainer. Rodriguez warns against nursing your cup of coffee (same goes for wine and soda, too), which might contribute more to the discoloration process. "All the tannins that are in the coffee will deposit easier and easier on the teeth," he says. "It's like adding another coating of lacquer or stain on wood, as the layering is what eventually gets the wood take up that stain and show the grain. And so the same thing happens with the tooth. It's just going to coat and coat, and get deeper and deeper in."
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We're talking marinara, curries, soy sauce, etc. "I like to tell people, usually if it can stain your blouse or stain your carpet, it's going to stain your teeth," Rodriguez says. He also notes that since you might be changing your diet habits around the holidays and indulging more, it's a time when you might experience more discoloration. Think lots more wine, cranberry sauce, and fruit pies.
Sodas and other carbonated drinks with pigment do a one-two punch on your teeth. The carbonation affects your enamel and then the dyes or colors get into your teeth. Sports drinks often have food coloring which can stain your teeth, too.
That beet or green juice can affect your teeth, too, but don't let that stop you from getting your health fix. "You should definitely use a straw and drink them quickly because as they sit around the mouth, they're definitely going to stain your teeth," Rodriguez says.
The stuff you add to your water to make it taste better, or even to give you a boost of vitamins, often have coloring agents (whether it's natural or artificial).
You think you're trying to be good by avoiding the creamy dressings and opting for some balsamic vinegar and oil, but there's a downside. "Don't forget that vinegar is just a wine that's a little bit older, and just slightly chemically changed through fermentation. But vinegar is wine, and wine stains teeth," Rodriguez says.
If you find that you've consumed one (or two or all) of these things on the list and your teeth aren't looking their whitest, you'll want to make sure you're aware of your whitening options and doing your research to find out what's best for you. Besides seeing your dentist regularly, Rodriguez suggests opting for ADA-recommended products if you decide to go the over-the-counter route and sticking to the product instructions. That's because they're tested by the ADA, so you know they're efficient and safe. Take a look at some we found on the ADA's website: