What Foods Are Known To Stain Teeth?


The adage says, if something stains a tablecloth, it’ll also stain your teeth. Yet, there are some foods that might surprise you. Some fruits and vegetables, for example, will stain your teeth but spare your table linens.

The following list isn’t provided to suggest that anyone should avoid these foods, especially healthy vegetables and fruits. It’s about being aware of things that can cause stains on teeth so you can take the right precautions.

To reduce the effects of food-stained teeth, rinse with an anti-cavity mouthwash designed to brighten teeth and protect against decay. This, combined with twice-daily toothbrushing using a fluoride-enriched toothpaste, can help reduce tooth stains.

Coffee, Tea and Cola

The lower the pH level is of a beverage, the higher its acidity and the more likely it is to stain your teeth. Water is neutral, with a pH of 7. Brown colas have pH levels between 2 and 3, which makes them highly acidic teeth-stainers. Black coffee is a little better than cola, with a pH of 5, but tea, especially black tea, is closer to 3. So, if you’re a tooth brusher first thing in the morning before your cup of coffee or tea, consider swapping the order of operations — coffee/tea first followed by brushing your teeth.

Red and White (Yes, White) Wine

It comes as no surprise that red wine stains teeth. Red wine has high acidity and tannins, which help the pigments bind to your teeth. Some people who have more porous teeth (aka weakened enamel) get “wine teeth” after drinking one glass of red wine. As people age, their enamel weakens, so the older we get the more likely we are to get those “wine smiles.”

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If you think that switching from red wine to white wine will prevent teeth stains, you’re not 100% right. All wine is highly acidic, which means that drinking wine erodes your tooth enamel. And eroded tooth enamel stains more. Some experts recommend brushing your teeth before drinking wine, especially if you use a toothpaste fortified with ingredients that protect tooth enamel.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruit that contains citric acid is great for your body but not for your teeth. The citric acid can “eat away” at the enamel on your teeth. Does this mean that one squeeze of lemon will make you vulnerable to cavities? No. But prolonged exposure to acidic fruits and vegetables weakens the enamel. The simple defense to this is to brush after eating or swish your mouth with an anti-cavity mouthwash; or, if that’s not available, rinse your mouth with water.

Experts recommend drinking fruit juices — orange juice, natural lemonade — through a straw, as that helps bypass your teeth. Lemon juice is very acidic with a pH level of 2.

These fruits contain citric acid, which can be bad for the enamel on your teeth:

  • Berries
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Oranges

It might come as a surprise that some fruits that aren’t going to stain your table linens can still yellow your teeth. Apples and potatoes are two hidden teeth stainers. The chemicals in these foods that cause them to turn dark after they’ve ripened can also turn teeth dark. Again, rinsing and brushing your teeth after eating is the best way to prevent stains.

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Some home remedies and homemade mouthwash recipes suggest vinegar as a natural way to whiten your teeth. The problem is, there is no evidence to support that vinegar — in particular apple cider vinegar — whitens teeth. In fact, if used too much, vinegar can make your teeth more vulnerable to stains because it has a pH level between 2 and 3, which is highly acidic. Cider vinegars are more acidic than white vinegar.

You’re OK to eat salads dressed with vinegar and oil, but as your dentist recommends, brush your teeth or at least rinse after meals.

Tomato and Curry Sauces

Remember what we said about staining tablecloths? If a sauce leaves a stain there, it will stain your teeth. This includes tomato-based pasta sauce, curries, and even some soy-based sauces (think Asian foods). Tomatoes, tomato juice, and some tomato sauces have pH levels that range from 3.5 to 4.9, so these are acidic foods. The advice here is not necessarily to avoid these delicious foods, but to rinse or brush after meals.

Sports Drinks

The American Dental Association tested more than 350 popular beverages and found many of them to be “extremely erosive” with pH levels in the 2.75 area. Again, no one is saying not to drink these beverages but rather to rinse or brush after consuming them, and to consume them in moderation.

Defend Against Enamel Erosion

Now you know that brushing and rinsing after meals isn’t just about removing food particles, germs and sugar from your teeth. It’s also about removing substances that are known to weaken your teeth’s enamel. Also, some oral care products are designed to strengthen and even remineralize your teeth, which is another way to defend and protect your teeth against elements that erode the enamel.

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Andrew Ellis

InnoVision Health Media reports on health content that is supported by our editorial advisory board and content published in our group of peer reviewed medical journals.

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