Yellow teeth are not a great look in an appearance obsessed society raised on the photoshopped images of blinding white smiles. But what causes yellow teeth and how can you prevent it from happening in the first place?
There are two related reasons why your teeth slowly turn from white to yellow. The first well known one is foods and drinks that stain them directly and the 8 worst offenders for doing this will be covered ahead.
The second less commonly known reason is acids in certain foods and particularly drinks that wear away your teeth’s white enamel coating. Soda for instance is highly acidic and regularly leaving it sitting on your teeth can start to wear down their protective outer layer.
When it’s at its thickest, tooth enamel is naturally white. Unfortunately as it is worn down it becomes translucent and starts to show through to the next layer of the tooth underneath called dentin.
This dentin layer of your teeth has a naturally yellower tone to it than that of the enamel that covers it, so the thinner your enamel layer becomes the more yellow your teeth will appear. This is why many elderly people have relatively yellow teeth. The longer you’ve had your teeth, the more chance you have to wear down their white protective coatings.
Ahead are a list of foods and drinks that are some of the worst culprits for making your teeth go yellow. The reason that most of them have made this list is that they not only stain, but they are also acidic and can wear away enamel, so providing a double whammy of teeth yellowing.
While some of the drinks and foods that cause your teeth to turn yellow are unhealthy anyway and worth avoiding, one or two of these are otherwise good for you and following this list is a couple of surprisingly simple things you can do to minimize the damage these foods and drinks do to your teeth without giving them up.
8 Foods and Drinks That Cause Yellow Teeth
1. Black Tea
Black tea is full of tannins that promote teeth staining and it is considered one of the most problematic drinks for teeth discoloration.
It’s particularly bad if you have it with other staining foods and drinks (anything you’d have trouble washing out of a white shirt counts) as these tannins tend to increased the way other heavily colored compounds adhere to the dental enamel surface.
Green tea is considered much less likely to cause problems and healthier as well, so making the switch to it could be a good thing to do for your future smile.
2. Cola, Soda and ‘Sports’ Drinks
The phosphoric and citric acids in colas and many other sodas, along with their massive amounts of acidic sugar, all wear down tooth enamel.
The old tale about a tooth left in Coke overnight dissolving completely has been disproven, but the experiments I’ve seen did leave teeth heavily discolored after one night and black after a week. Cola is clearly not something you want sticking to your teeth too long.
If you’d like to give up Coke for the many other health reasons beyond what it’s doing to your teeth, then here’s a page with 7 Steps to Replacing Diet Soda with Something Healthy.
While cola, with its ammonia based caramel coloring and significant acid levels is worse, even lightly colored sodas are acidic enough to damage the enamel of your teeth. Recent studies have also shown that many so-called ‘sports drinks’ have even higher levels of destructive acids than Pepsi or Coke.
3. Sugary Sweets
Hard candies and brightly colored sweets that you chew are a big problem for teeth staining, not just because of their high sugar content, but also because of the length of time they stay in your mouth.
The longer it is the more damage they can do to your teeth’s defenses and the general rule with these sweets, and any other foods and drinks on this list, is if it can stain your tongue, it’ll probably be slowly staining your teeth.
4. Red and White Wine
Red wine is well known teeth stainer due to its deeply colored polyphenols and tannins. White wine is also a problem as its tannins and acidic nature primes your tooth enamel for staining from any other of the foods and drinks on this list if you have them around the same time.
5. Curry and Other Sauces
Brightly colored sauces like curries and tomato sauce can attach to porous dental enamel so you probably don’t want to leave them sitting on your teeth for too long.
Interestingly, having a starter of salad greens or steamed vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower has been shown to create a protective layer over your tooth enamel to lessen the chance of them staining. So eat your greens, especially at the start of your meal. They’re really good for you and your teeth.
Table condiments like soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and ketchup are believed to contribute to teeth staining and you’d definitely want to follow the simple suggestions coming up ahead after using any of these.
7. Fruit Juices
While not quite on a par with cola or bizarrely colored sports drinks, commercial fruit juices are actually much more acidic than most people realize and particularly the brightly colored ones are a problem if you want to keep your teeth white.
Freshly made juices aren’t processed in the same way so aren’t as much of a problem acid wise, but you still don’t really want them lingering on your teeth for a long time.
8. Brightly Colored Fruits and Vegetables
While very healthy for you, some fruits, berries and vegetables like pomegranates, blueberries and beet are loaded with strongly colored compounds such as polyphenols. These substances are very beneficial inside our bodies, but not so much on our teeth.
Rather than avoiding the most healthy category on our list, let’s have a look at 2 ways you can minimize the staining potential of any of these foods and drinks.
2 Simple Ways to Prevent Yellow Teeth
You might be tempted, after reading about how staining and acidic to your teeth some of your favorite foods and drinks can be, to reach for your toothbrush straight after eating them. That would be a mistake.
Dental enamel actually becomes softer after eating one of these foods or drinking one of these drinks for at least half an hour afterwards. Brushing during this time may actually make things worse by wearing away the weakened enamel. Fortunately it should harden again within the hour so you can brush your teeth with a soft bristled toothbrush then if you like.
A better way is to remember to do 2 simple things after eating or drinking any of the suspects on the list above.
The first is to have a big sip of water after you’ve finished your meal or drink and swirl it around your mouth to clear away any acids or staining compounds. Just remembering this alone can make a big difference to how white your teeth stay.
The second is to actively try and get more saliva into your mouth after eating and let it move over your teeth. It’s easy to do after a sip of water and saliva is your mouth’s natural defense against enamel erosion, staining and cavities.
You’ve probably heard of chewing sugar-free gum after a meal for the same reason, but it isn’t needed (most sugar-free gum contains potentially dangerous aspartame so it’s best avoided). As long as you swirled water around first, you should be easily able to build up a little extra saliva and do the same again with it.
Before long this will become a habit that will keep your teeth strong, white and protected, even if you eat and drink some of the things on the list fairly often.
The purpose of this page isn’t to say never have any of these foods and drinks (through dropping drinks like soda would help your waistline even more than your teeth).
Rather, just to make you aware of what causes yellow teeth over time and to provide a simple little ritual you can do after eating or drinking them to keep your teeth, if not as dazzling as the airbrushed models in magazines, at least white enough that you’re not afraid to show them off with a smile.
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