Foods and drinks we choose play a major role in stains that develop on our teeth. Although certain antibiotics are also known to cause some tooth yellowing, there is little we can do following a course of medication. However, understanding that certain foods and beverages are more likely to discolour teeth than others can inform our choices.
- Acidic foods and drink: Acids in foods and drinks cause temporary erosion or softening of the tooth enamel. Normally, within around 20 minutes in a healthy individual, the minerals present in saliva reverse this in a process known as remineralisation.
- Thus repeated snacking (‘grazing’) or sipping of acidic foods causes more problems over time. This is why it is better for your teeth to drink water between meals.
- Dark foods and liquids – red wine, blueberries, pomegranate, colas, dark sauces like balsamic vinegar – owe their rich colour to chromogens. Chromogens contain pigment-producing substances that cling to tooth enamel – especially when softened by acids.
- Tannins are plant-based compounds responsible for the bitterness or astringency of black tea and red wine. They also assist chromogens in binding to the teeth.
- Tea is both acidic and rich in tannins and is worse for tooth staining than coffee, which is acidic and rich in chromogens. Red wine is the worst of all, containing tannins, chromogens and acids.
- Cherries, blueberries, pomegranates and grapes all also contain chromogens and tannins.
Rather than avoiding everything you like, consider snacking on or finishing a meal with foods that cleanse the teeth, especially salads, crisp veg and cheese. Or rinsing with or drinking water.
Staining can’t be removed by brushing but can be gently polished off during a visit to the dentist.