If looking in the mirror lately comes with the unpleasant realization that your teeth aren’t as white as you’d like, you’re not alone. In fact, so many people want whiter teeth that the teeth whitening industry’s annual revenue recently topped 11 billion dollars — yes, that’s billion with a “B” — and is expected to continue to grow over the next decade. But what is it that’s staining our teeth?
First of all, it’s important to note that the color of your teeth can change due to factors other than staining. While teeth can become stained due to materials that come into contact with the exterior of the teeth, like food and drink, discoloration comes from the inside. Some medications can cause tooth discoloration for example, and if your enamel becomes worn down, the darker-colored interior of your teeth may become more visible.
While discoloration can certainly be corrected with something like porcelain veneers, you generally cannot prevent it by controlling your diet or habits the way you can with staining.
Factors That Stain Teeth
Despite enamel being the hardest material in the human body, it isn’t impenetrable. When your enamel is exposed to certain substances repeatedly, it is possible for it to weaken, allowing staining materials to penetrate. Some foods, drinks, and habits are more likely to stain your enamel than others.
When it comes to food and drink, there are two factors that put your teeth in danger. First, acidity. Acidic foods and drinks, such as wine, coffee, and soda, can attack your enamel and weaken it. This then allows staining agents access to your newly vulnerable teeth, making staining more likely. The other factor is a chemical compound known as a chromogen, which is just any substance that produces color when oxidized. Foods like berries, beets, and any food that contains food coloring are delivering chromogens right to your teeth, staining them.
The worst offenders are the foods that are both acidic and contain chromogens. For example, red wine and coffee, both of which are beverages that many people consume weekly if not daily, are both acidic and chock full of chromogens. This means that if you drink coffee frequently (the average American drinks nearly three cups a day!), you are both weakening your enamel to stains, and creating those stains.
Of course, food and drink aren’t the only things that can stain your teeth. Tobacco in any form is a major cause of tooth staining.
Of course, giving up those big offenders, like dark sodas, red wine, coffee, and tobacco can make a huge difference. But not everyone is ready to give up their morning java for good, and it would be impossible to eliminate all acidic foods or foods containing chromogens from your diet. You can modify how you consume them, though. With coffee, it’s easy: adding milk helps neutralize the acid and protect your teeth against stains. With wine, try having water between sips of wine. And, in general, avoid drinking beverages slowly over long periods of time. This prolongs the acidic damage and exposure to stains.
You should also make sure that you’re doing a great job with your at-home dental hygiene. Brushing twice daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste is step one to preventing those stains from setting in.
Your enamel is especially vulnerable after consuming those acidic foods and drinks and could be harmed by a vigorous post-red wine tooth brushing. However, you can help clear the staining agents away from your teeth immediately after consuming those foods and drinks by performing a quick rinse with water, or even a gentle tooth brushing without toothpaste.