Between whitening toothpastes, whitening strips, and whitening trays, it’s hard to walk through your local drugstore without being reminded how much we care about whitening our teeth. But what discolors them in the first place? Food and drink, of course! But not all of it poses equal risk to the whiteness of teeth.

What Causes Tooth Discoloration?

There are two different kinds of food and drink that can dim your bright smile: Chromogens and acids.

Chromogens are the ones that seem the most obvious: These foods are extremely pigmented, and can work their way into your porous enamel and affect how white your teeth appear. For example, coffee and tea are chromogens. In fact, they’re so good at staining, people use them to dye fabrics! Berries like grapes, blackberries, or cherries are also chromogens — including juices made from those berries. And yes, that also includes red wine!

Red wine can stain teeth

But red wine is more than just pigmented: It’s also acidic. Acids affect your tooth enamel as well, and while they may not always stain your teeth directly, they weaken your enamel, making it vulnerable to stains from other substances. Red wine both weakens enamel and poses the threat of staining, but white wine is sneakier. White wine is acidic enough to put your enamel at increased risk of stains, but doesn’t do any of its own discoloring. Instead, after drinking white wine or a clear soda, your teeth may be more likely to be stained by the next food you eat. Wine and soda are very acidic, and many people drink at least one or both of them daily. Coffee and tea are slightly acidic, but with the presence of chromogens, they do represent a significant risk for staining.

How to Keep Teeth White

Limiting foods that stain your teeth is the most direct route to avoiding the stains they may cause. However, avoiding colorful and acidic foods completely would be near impossible. Instead, after eating or drinking something you know risks staining your teeth, you can take a few steps to decrease their effects.

Brushing your teeth is the obvious way to clean up food residue thoroughly, but it isn’t always the best idea. After consuming acidic foods, your tooth enamel is softened and more vulnerable to damage. Plus, whitening toothpastes are often highly abrasive, increasing the likelihood that brushing directly after drinking wine or soda could do more harm to your teeth than good.

Instead, it’s a good idea to rinse with water after consuming acidic foods that could stain your teeth. This will help clear any residue that might stain, but do so gently. And if you do need to brush right after eating or drinking, try using a soft-bristled toothbrush without toothpaste. This is enough to remove food and plaque on teeth, but not enough to damage your enamel.

And if your teeth have been discolored by chromagens, teeth whitening is very effective at restoring their whiteness. On the other hand, teeth that have been highly damaged by acid or other types of erosion may require porcelain veneers or other restorations to achieve whiteness again.

Prevention can help keep your teeth white and bright, but if you already have some discoloration you’d like to eliminate call (803) 781-9090 or contact us online to make an appointment with a Columbia, SC cosmetic dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry. We can provide in-office whitening treatments, and even take-home trays that are more powerful than drugstore whitening kits.