Because who doesn’t want pearly white chompers?
Are you an avid coffee or red wine drinker who’s terrified your habits will eventually lead to a mouth full of stained teeth?
…or maybe they already have.
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Well, the good news is, there are a few easy ways you can prevent and get rid of common stains on your teeth, and here we’re going to tell you all about it.
There are a lot of different foods, drinks, medications, and habits (ie. smoking) that can cause discoloration and really take a toll on the overall appearance of your smile. So BuzzFeed Health spoke with Dr. Toula Mylonakis, NYC-based general and cosmetic dentist, and Dr. John Grbic, professor of dental medicine at the Columbia University Medical Center, to get to the bottom of what exactly causes these stains, if there are people who are more prone to getting them than others, and what can actually be done to remove them.
Alright, sit back, take a sip of your favorite teeth-staining drink, and read what the experts have to say.
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First things first, there are two different types of stains: intrinsic, which are most likely permanent, and extrinsic, which are most likely removable.
Intrinsic staining occurs inside the tooth’s enamel — the tooth’s external protective layer — and usually develops during childhood, when your teeth are growing and your enamel is still forming. Intrinsic staining can be caused by things like getting a really high fever, taking the antibiotic tetracycline, or consuming water with excessive amounts of fluoride. But your reaction to these events, and whether you develop these stains or not, will depend on your genetic predisposition, Grbic tells BuzzFeed Health.
“Because these stains are within the enamel, they’re most likely permanent and can’t really be removed,” he says. “That’s why patients will try to hide them by getting laminates — a thin layer that covers the surface of a tooth, generally used for aesthetic purposes, or a crown that covers the entire tooth.”
Extrinsic staining occurs on the outside of your tooth enamel and is primarily caused by ingesting things high in pigmentation, like nicotine (through smoking cigarettes) and foods or drinks that are high in a compound called polyphenol (such as coffee, red wine, and green tea). These types of stains can usually be removed, and often times prevented, Grbic explains.
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Extrinsic stains usually depend on the frequency with which you’re consuming certain foods, drinks, or other highly-pigmented things, and if there’s enough plaque buildup on your teeth for them to latch onto and discolor.
Plaque is a sticky, colorless film that is made from the mixture of food, saliva, and bacteria that gets trapped on your teeth and along your gum line. Because plaque is a porous material that’s attached to the tooth, it absorbs pigmented liquids and foods, resulting in staining.
When the plaque buildup is left on your teeth, it will harden and turn into tartar, which is a lot harder to remove. In fact, it typically has to be removed professionally, during a regular cleaning at the dentist. Therefore, if you’re doing things like frequently consuming teeth-staining liquids or foods or smoking cigarettes, and then letting the plaque on your teeth build up, you’re more likely to develop what looks like discoloration of your teeth.
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Unfortunately, some people can be genetically predisposed to greater plaque buildup (and therefore stained teeth).
While everyone has bacteria in their mouths that form plaque, some people naturally have more, which makes them more susceptible to getting stained teeth, Mylonakis says.
Some people have really strong saliva production, which helps defend your mouth against bacteria and maintain low buildup. So the rate at which you experience stains really depends on the amount of staining stuff you’re consuming as well as the amount of mouth bacteria you have, she explains.
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But stains don’t happen overnight — it takes around a week of consistent stain-causing eating and drinking, and enough plaque buildup to form noticeable stains.
“Yes, if you’re having five cups of coffee per day, and you’re not thoroughly getting rid of all that plaque buildup (more on how to get rid of plaque shortly), your teeth are probably going to stain,” Mylonakis says. “If you have one cup of coffee per day, then the likelihood is that no, your teeth are not going to stain.”
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So to prevent these extrinsic stains, there are a few things you can do, starting with being aware of when and how often you’re eating sugary foods.
Most people assume that drinking coffee black gives you the highest chance of developing stains on your teeth. But actually, adding things like sugar or milk, or anything with a high sugar content, is going to allow the bacteria to stick more readily to your tooth’s surface. So then, when you do consume something highly-pigmented, the plaque or tartar will be built up on your teeth and ready to absorb it, increasing the likelihood of stains, Mylonakis says.
“It doesn’t have to be just simple sugars, like candy and cake, it could be any kind of carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes, pastas, rice, etc.” she explains. “I’m not saying you have to stop eating these foods, you just have to be aware that eating them frequently, during the same time you’re also drinking dark-colored liquids, could potentially result in more staining.”
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Make sure that you’re getting at least one thorough, two-minute tooth-brushing session per day.
“There are some people who brush their teeth ten times per day, but still get stains because zero of those ten times were actually done well, resulting in a lot of leftover plaque,” Grbic says. “You don’t need to brush more than two times per day, as long as one of those times, preferably the one before bed, is at least two minutes long and done very thoroughly.”
He also says that adding in flossing to your daily routine is only going to help.
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And investing in an electronic toothbrush.
Electronic toothbrushes are great because most of them have built-in timers, which allow you to track how long you’re actually brushing your teeth for. They’re also more efficient, cleaning your teeth better than a regular toothbrush would — and the less plaque, the less able dark-colored liquids are to stain your teeth, Grbic says.
And carry some mouthwash on you.
When you rinse with a mouthwash right after eating or drinking, it keeps the bacteria and food and drink particles from sticking to your teeth, which in turn, can prevent surface stains, Mylonakis explains.
She recommends keeping a travel-sized bottle of whitening mouthwash at your desk or in your backpack, so that you can go to the bathroom and conveniently swish some around when you need to. Some options both experts suggest are Crest Pro Health and Listerine.
You could try over-the-counter whitening products, which have been shown to be helpful.
“Whitening strips and toothpastes usually include a hydrogen peroxide mixture that has a brighter and whiter effect on your teeth,” Mylonakis says. “Although it ultimately depends on your genetics and plaque buildup, over-the-counter products usually get people results, and I recommend them if people want a quick temporary whiten.”
Here are 23 of the best teeth whiteners you can get on Amazon, in case you’re interested.
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And you could also try sipping teeth-staining drinks through a straw, if you’re willing to sacrifice a little flavor.
Obviously, this is more ideal with things like coffee and tea, than it would be with red wine — unless sipping wine through a straw is your kind of thing.
“Being a wine guy, you realize that different parts of the tongue have different taste receptors so it’ll be hard to truly taste a wine without it somehow sitting in the floor of your mouth,” Grbic says. “But using a straw could help whatever you’re drinking avoid hitting the front of your teeth, which means less chance that it could cause a visible stain.”
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If after all of this, you’re still having a hard time removing stains from your teeth, visit your dentist for a regular cleaning.
“The main factor in getting rid of external staining is clearing away all of the tartar build up, and we do that everytime you come in for a regular cleaning,” Mylonakis says, “People are always surprised when they see how easily we remove the brownish or yellowish tint from their teeth. We also have much stronger whitening products in our office than the ones they sell in drugstores.”
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In conclusion: The best way to avoid stains is to monitor your diet and your tartar/plaque buildup.
You can do it!
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