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Staining: why don’t teeth stay white?

Why do some foods stain teeth?

Habits, such as smoking as well as the foods and drinks we choose play a role in staining teeth. Sometimes certain antibiotics or other medications can cause tooth yellowing. Understanding which foods and beverages are more likely to discolour teeth and knowing a few preventive tips can help.

Which foods are worse for staining?

  • Food and drinks high in acid cause a temporary erosion or softening of the tooth enamel. In a healthy individual, the natural action of minerals in saliva reverse this in around 20 minutes. This is known as remineralisation.
  • Repeated snacking (‘grazing’) or sipping of acidic foods causes problems because enamel may still be softer at the time of the next acidic assault. Hence the recommendation to drink water between meals rather than concentrated fruit juices or sodas.


  • Chromogens give dark foods and liquids – red wine, blueberries, pomegranate, colas, dark sauces like balsamic vinegar –  their rich colour. They contain pigment producing substances that cling to tooth enamel – especially when enamel is softened by acids.


  • Tannins assist chromogens in binding to the teeth. These plant-based compounds are responsible for the bitterness or astringency of black tea and red wine. Being both acidic and rich in tannins makes tea worse for tooth staining than coffee, which is acidic and full of chromogens. While those worst of all contain all three! These include red wine, cherries, blueberries, pomegranates and grapes.


While it sounds as though you have to give up everything you like, you can snack on or finish a meal with cleansing foods and drink such as salads, crisp vegetables like carrot or celery, and cheese. Crunching on a carrot is likened to using a natural toothbrush while cheese helps balance pH and counteract the effects of acidic foods. It’s also beneficial to rinse with or drink water.

Staining can’t be removed by brushing but can be gently polished off during a visit to the dentist.

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