Dr. Roshan Parikh, DDS, CandidPro Clinical Growth Ambassador, says that there are two buckets that the most common causes of tooth staining fall into: dental health and lifestyle. The former involves aging and genetics, in addition to certain medications, previous infections, and the like. "Our teeth naturally lose their luster as we age and the enamel—basically what helps make and keep your teeth pearly white—thins and becomes translucent, causing the dentin to become more apparent," he explains. "As a result, your teeth might have more of a yellowish tinge to them over time," he explains. He adds that there is also a genetic component to the thickness of your enamel.
Lifestyle is the bucket that what you eat and drink falls into. "From a global perspective, it is difficult to force rank on the worst foods for causing tooth staining, but a good rule I share with my patients is this: Anything that can stain a white shirt, can stain your teeth," Dr. Parikh says.
However, there are three foods in particular he says people are surprised to learn stain their precious pearly whites. And by the way, there is absolutely zero reason to stop eating or drinking any of them, just follow Dr. Parikh's tips below to help avoid the inevitable stainage.
3 unexpected foods that stain teeth:
1. Tomato-based dishes and dark-colored sauces
Alas, highly-pigmented foods like tomato sauce, BBQ sauce, even ketchup are highly acidic, which erodes the enamel on your teeth. This applies to tomato-based dishes as well, like pizza and pasta. "Also, spices and dark-colored foods can cause more immediate staining," Dr. Parikh adds. (Remember what the dentist mentioned about foods that can stain a white shirt also being prone to staining white teeth?) This includes balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, dark sodas like cola, dark chocolate, coffee, red wine, and so on.
Rinsing your mouth with water after eating anything with tomato sauce—or any other dark-colored or highly-pigmented ingredient—can help your teeth resist staining.
2. Bright, rich-toned fruits
This is also the reason why your teeth tend to turn purple—and continue to tout a purplish hue—for a cringe-worthy period of time after you finish eating that bowl of blueberries. The pigment in fruits like strawberries, blueberries, pomegranates, and raspberries tends to linger on teeth longer than other fruits (or foods in general), which can cause stains, he says. This is because microscopic organic particles in these fruits have the potential to penetrate the pores in your tooth enamel and remain attached. Oral hygiene varies widely between individuals, so everyone's teeth will react differently to pigmented foods; however, if your teeth are particularly prone to this type of staining, you may notice more persistent stains over time.
3. Sports and energy drinks
Typical sports drinks, like Gatorade and Powerade, tend to be high in sugar. "The high sugar content attracts bacteria that can weaken the enamel," Dr. Parikh explains. These beverages are also highly acidic, and same goes for energy drinks. They're stain-inducing ability was further shown in a 2012 study, which measured the "fluoride levels, pH, and titratable acidity of multiple popular, commercially available brands of sports and energy drinks. Enamel dissolution was measured as weight loss using an in vitro multiple exposure model consisting of repeated short exposures to these drinks, alternating with exposure to artificial saliva." The researchers found that energy drinks and sports drinks were both closely associated with the breakdown of enamel, which contributes to stains. They did, however, determine that energy drinks are significantly worse for teeth: "Energy drinks have significantly higher titratable acidity and enamel dissolution associated with them than sports drinks. Enamel weight loss after exposure to energy drinks was more than two times higher than it was after exposure to sports drinks. Titratable acidity is a significant predictor of enamel dissolution, and its effect on enamel weight loss varies inversely with the pH of the drink."
How to prevent teeth staining caused by food
Finally, there is good news! Dr. Parikh says that proper dental hygiene—brushing, flossing, rinsing your teeth after meals and before bed—can help minimize the impact of these and other foods on your enamel. If you're eating or drinking something acidic, be sure to wait around 15 minutes before brushing to avoid damaging your enamel. He says his favorite tool is the Philips Sonicare Power Toothbrush, which he has been using for 15 years.
And if you want minimize already-existing tooth stains, over-the-counter and professional-grade whitening products can help combat staining, he says.
"However, everyone’s body chemistries are so different that the combination of what works 'best' for you might be a blended regimen—so talk to your dental professional about it first or do your research where experts write unbiased, objective views," Dr. Parikh shares. "If you combine that with consistent oral healthcare and regular cleanings with your dentist, you can help minimize the effects of this teeth staining process—and rebound from it, too!"
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