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

Updated: Dec. 14, 2020

There are plenty of ways to whiten your teeth, but one of the best things to do is to avoid stains as much as possible in the first place. Here's how.

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 31 percent of Americans don’t brush their teeth twice a day, according to a study by Delta Dental. 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. (Keep in mind these golden rules for white teeth, too.)

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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.

fresh bowl of strawberries
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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,” Dr. Curatola 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!” (Also, don’t miss the foods that whiten your teeth, and the ones to avoid.)

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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.

curry meal
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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. 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. (Here are the other things dentists wish you knew about teeth whitening.)

balsamic vinegar and oil
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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.”

close up shot of black coffee
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You drink dark-colored liquids

That after-work glass of cabernet may do 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, consider using straws. (Reusable please.) “Sipping any beverage through a straw significantly reduces its exposure on the teeth,” Dr. Rozenberg says. Make sure you stay clear of the worst ways to whiten your teeth.