Why does coffee stain teeth?
Enamel, the hard outer coating that protects the other layers of your teeth, is covered in microscopic gaps. When food and drink particles get stuck in those gaps, it forms an extrinsic stain, which just means the outer layer of your tooth is discolored. But the longer the particles stay in the gaps, they start to affect other layers of the tooth. “The more you drink [coffee] and don’t do anything to remove it, the stain goes deeper and deeper,” says Denise Estafan, DDS, an associate professor at the New York University College of Dentistry. This is called an intrinsic stain, and it’s a lot harder to clean. Here are ways you didn't even realize you're staining your teeth.
Brushing: Your first plan of attack
The primary cause of a tooth stain is plaque accumulation, so brushing your teeth with whitening toothpaste and seeing your dentist for regular cleanings are the best ways to prevent ugly coffee stains. But trying these additional tricks can keep your teeth sparkling in between dentist visits. The best part? You don’t need to give up your morning pick-me-up. By the way: Are you making these tooth-brushing mistakes?
Don’t forget to floss. Seriously.
Let’s be honest: It’s hard to floss as regularly as dentists want you to. But setting aside a few minutes each day—morning or night—can make a big impact on your oral health. It gets rid of plaque generally, and plaque attracts stains. Brushing alone doesn’t remove all the bacteria in your mouth. Whatever’s left over could harden and turn into tartar, which can cause infections.
Use a straw
iStock/Eva Katalin Kondoros
Less liquid touches your teeth when you drink it through a straw. The smaller the straw, the better. This comes more naturally to iced coffee drinkers, but it works for hot coffee too.
Mix baking soda and hydrogen peroxide
Make your own whitening paste by mixing a small amount of baking soda with a small amount of hydrogen peroxide (this is what dentists use to clean your teeth, but you can buy it over-the-counter at drugstores). The paste should be pretty runny. If it’s too gritty, that means there’s too much baking soda, and you could scrub off your enamel. Here's how you can whiten your teeth with natural ingredients from home.
Estafan says that a splash of milk can make a real difference for your teeth. A study published in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene found that casein, the main protein in milk, can latch onto tannins in tea (bitter-tasting particles that leave residue on teeth) and prevent staining. In fact, Ava Chow, the lead researcher in this study, says it may work even better than whitening toothpaste. Coffee also has small amounts of tannins, so coffee drinkers can reap these dairy benefits too. For the best results, use high fat animal milk; soy milk won’t do the job.
Sip water between cups of coffee
A swig of water can wash away staining liquids quickly before they start to set into your teeth. Even though science shows coffee isn’t dehydrating, this is still a great way to stay hydrated throughout the day.
Drink it quickly
Let's say you and your coworker both grab cups of coffee when you get into the office. You drink your whole cup in five minutes, but your coworker takes his time and finishes the same amount of coffee in two hours. Lucky for you, Estafan says that your teeth will be the less-stained ones. Since your coworker exposed his teeth to the coffee for a longer period of time, his will be more stained. Wash even more particles away by following that quick cup with a glass of water. Just don’t burn yourself.
Swish apple cider vinegar
This tip is admittedly controversial. The acid in apple cider vinegar can whiten teeth and remove stains, but it can also cause erosion. It’s especially hard for dentists like Estafan to gauge its risks and benefits without knowing the acid concentration, how long a person swishes it, and how often he or she swishes. Use caution until researchers make definite conclusions about this method. And consider these other uses for apple cider vinegar.
Chew sugar-free gum
Conquer coffee breath and clean your teeth at the same time. Chewing gum increases the amount of saliva in your mouth, and saliva washes away acids and plaque from your teeth. According to the American Dental Association, chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after eating can help prevent tooth decay.