Americans are obsessed with white teeth. We buy whitening toothpastes, get drugstore whitening strips and trays for home use, and visit the dentist for whitening procedures. Some people are so fixated on whiter teeth that over-bleaching has earned its own name: Bleachorexia.
But ultimately, whitening is only necessary because of all the things that are staining our teeth in the first place. So what is it that prevents our teeth from staying white?
Food and Drink Are Staining Your Teeth
Usually, it’s the foods and drinks we consume, of course! Everything we eat and drink has to pass over our teeth before it heads down towards the stomach, and some of those items can leave yellowed teeth in their wake.
While teeth may seem solid and impenetrable, enamel is still porous, and the pigment of some particularly colorful foods and drinks can work its way into those pores and change the appearance of your teeth. These foods and drinks are called chromogens, and they include coffee, tea, red wine, and richly colored berries like cherries or blackberries.
But stains aren’t the only risks you have to worry about from your food! Eating and drinking highly acidic things can also compromise your tooth whiteness. Acids can weaken your tooth enamel, opening up those pores to be more easily stained by other foods. These are sneakier, since even clear drinks like white wine or clear soda can open your teeth up to stains. Some items, like cola and red wine, are a double whammy, hitting your teeth with both acid and pigment at the same time.
Guarding Your Pearly Whites
Of course, the obvious way of avoiding stains is to avoid the food and drink that create them, but let’s be honest — who wants to give up coffee or red wine? And while some of the foods and drinks listed here are common or especially strong sources of discoloration, they’re certainly not the only ones. Plenty of foods and drinks are acidic or contain chromogens. Luckily, avoidance isn’t the only way to keep your teeth white.
The key to keeping your morning cup of joe and your beautiful white smile is to perform consistent good dental hygiene, so that food and drink residue aren’t left to sit on your teeth, weakening and staining your enamel.
Your first instinct may be to reach for the toothbrush, but that’s an instinct you should fight — after acidic food and drink, your enamel isn’t just vulnerable to stains, it’s vulnerable to all kinds of damage. That means that brushing could be too harsh for your acid-weakened teeth. As a gentler alternative, try rinsing out your mouth with water directly after eating or drinking food that could discolor your teeth. And when you do brush, try using an extra soft brush and no toothpaste.