7 Ways You Didn’t Realize You Were Staining Your Teeth

You don't always need drugstore whitening strips.

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The secret to a stain-free smile


Anyone who's gotten their teeth professionally whitened—or at the very least used drugstore-bought whitening strips—knows a thing or two about what to stay away from to keep those pearly whites nice and bright. No coffee, smoking, red wine—oh, and tons of flossing. But as much we all claim to want a celebrity-worthy smile, the fact is most of us aren’t doing what it takes to get there. For instance, a whopping 25 percent of us don’t brush our teeth twice a day. And one in three people have never flossed their teeth in their life. Gross, right? If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not one of those referenced in these stats, but you’re probably wondering what it takes to get a stain-free smile. We asked top dentists to share the most surprising culprits behind stained teeth.

You load up your plate with seedy fruits


Nature’s natural sweets—especially dark ones like blueberries, blackberries, and pomegranates—might taste delicious and be good for you, but they can wreak havoc on the brightness of your tooth enamel. “These dark berries are made up of a compound called chromogens, which produce a pigment that is difficult to rub off,” says Gerry Curatola, DDS, RealSelf Advisor and founder of Rejuvenation Dentistry. “And it’s not only eating them raw that causes this—even in full recipes like pies or cakes, the berries leave their mark.” Your best bet when it comes to enjoying a bowl of fruit is to stick to lighter colors that contain more water like cantaloupe and watermelon.

But you skip strawberries


Strawberries are not only one of the “good” seedy fruits, but they naturally fights stains on teeth. “Strawberries contain a malic acid, which can safely dissolve surface stains on teeth,” he says. Mash up one to two in a bowl with a pinch of baking soda. Then apply the mixture to your teeth and leave on for a minute or two. “It’s an easy way to whiten sans dentist appointment!” Here are more brilliant home remedies for baking soda.

You take certain antibiotics or medication


You might not think your Rx or OTC drug could affect your choppers—especially since you’re not even chewing most of them—but the antibiotics tetracycline, minocycline, and doxycycline, most commonly prescribed to treat an array of issues from skin conditions to bacterial infections, are known to discolor teeth. Here are questions to always ask your doctor before taking antibiotics.

You rinse with the wrong mouthwash


Mouth rinses and washes that contain chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium chloride are also common teeth-staining culprits, so check your labels or ask your dentist for his or her best recommendation, suggests Dr. Rozenberg. In fact, some dentists consider mouthwash a waste of money.

You cook with certain spices (like curry)


Curry gives Indian and Thai food their notorious flavors, but is also known to darken the coloring of teeth. “The deep pigmentation from the curry spice itself can continuously yellow teeth over time, so you’ll want to limit it from your diet to cut back on staining,” says Dr. Rozenberg. Word to the exotic food lovers of the world: If you’re ordering a curry-spiced meal, make sure to toss in fruits, vegetables, or starches that can help wear off the coloring on your teeth—think apples, carrots, potatoes, or celery.

Balsamic is your go-to vinegar


Dressings or marinades consisting of balsamic vinegar as an ingredient can dull your pearly-white shade. “Any liquid that’s naturally dark, especially strong or acidic ones like balsamic vinegar, can lead to staining if the teeth are not properly brushed afterwards,” says Dr. Rozenberg. Just like with that curry dish, toss in as many crunchy add-ons as you can—lettuce, nuts, croutons, and snappy vegetables. “These ingredients can brush up against your teeth as you chew and help limit the stain caused by balsamic vinegar.”

You drink dark-colored liquids


That after-work glass of cabernet may do wonders for your stress level, but it’s also doing a serious number on the color of your teeth. “The rules are, if it stains a white shirt, it will stain your teeth,” says Lana Rozenberg, DDS, New York City-based dentist. “But anything you wouldn’t want to scrub off your white blouse, you shouldn’t want to scrub off your teeth such as coffee, soda, tea and red wine.” If these beverages are daily indulgences for you, drink lots of water to wash away those stains or chew crunchy vegetables to promote salivary flow, which also help to remove stains. Also, load up your cabinets with straws! “Sipping any beverage through a straw significantly reduces its exposure on the teeth,” Dr. Rozenberg says.

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