No matter how often teeth are brushed, some of us just can’t achieve that gleam responsible for the phrase “pearly whites.” What’s the secret? Your dental hygienist knows the answer.

A lot of it depends on what we consume. There are three compounds found in foods and liquids that are often behind a duller smile:

  • Chromogens have strong colour that coats tooth enamel
  • Tannins, composed of plant material, enable stains to grab hold
  • Acids soften tooth enamel, paving the way for stains to start forming

Some of these foods and beverages include:

  • Numerous berries – blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries and blackberries – have high chromogen counts. So do tomatoes and cherries as well as grapes and pomegranates that also contain tannins. And those staining properties remain regardless of how the fruit is processed, fresh and whole, juiced or as a jam or jelly.
  • Pasta and sauces present a triple problem. Pasta is a starch and starches are easily converted to sugar in our systems. That sugar can be processed by bacteria for fuel, causing enamel breakdown and tooth decay, perfect conditions for staining. A tomato based pasta sauce is acidic and its rich red colour can permeate the teeth, causing stains.
    • To counter these effects, have a salad of dark greens before a pasta course. Foods like spinach, kale and broccoli will also coat the teeth but that film guards them from the sauce’s staining effect.
  • Curry makes the list because of its deep yellow pigmentation. But that can be countered when it’s eaten with fresh fruits and veggies that are hard and crunchy – carrots, celery, cauliflower and apples.
  • Balsamic vinegar might be a surprise. It can darken teeth anyway but it also sticks to them, which can lead to staining. As it’s a favourite salad dressing, just ensure it’s used with a really crunchy lettuce and, drink water with it to rinse it away
  • Brightly coloured candies and drinks will stain teeth due to the colouring agents they contain and exposed root surfaces are even more susceptible to staining than enamel.
  • Tea and coffee are no surprise. Both contain tannins – tea even more than coffee – and dark pigments, clinging to and penetrating enamel with heavy consummation.
  • Ditto for red wine, also containing tannins and, often, deep hues.
  • White wine makes the list too. Though its tannins are significantly lower than red wine, it’s far more acidic.
    • The hygienist might tell you to sip on water with or after the wine to rinse it from your mouth.
  • Pop is a big stain enabler. Dark colas contain chromogens but all sodas are highly acidic, including the lemon-lime and clear varieties.
  • Lemonade, a traditional summer favourite, has a high citric acid content that, like all the other acidities, can lead to stains when followed by dark pigmented foods or drinks.

Tips To Help

Of course, brushing and flossing your teeth are the best defence against food stains. But if you can’t brush, you can swish or rinse with water. Using a straw helps too with liquids because it draws them past your teeth.

Counter acidic foods and drinks with a glass of milk or piece of hard cheese. Both of these will neutralize the acid and their calcium content will strengthen your teeth.

Regular cleanings and polishing by your hygienist can help smooth miniscule cracks in tooth enamel that trap deep colours.

She or he might recommend using whitening toothpaste or confer with the dentist on your behalf about other whitening options available.

Your dental hygienist is the ideal professional to consult with if you are concerned. Not only will they do the cleanings and polishing you need but they can further explain how simple diet changes allow you to keep enjoying the foods and beverages you love.