Top 5 Foods That Cause Staining on Teeth

By: Jill Jaracz

Food that's high in chromogens, acid or tannins is very likely to contribute to food stains.

A 2005 study at King's College in London showed that people with whiter teeth were thought to be more successful in life. But keeping your teeth healthy and white takes more than just regular brushing, flossing and visits to the dentist. You should also watch what you eat and drink.

Several different qualities of foods and beverages make them capable of staining your teeth. If what you're eating or drinking has an intense color, for example, you can be pretty sure it will hang around on your choppers. That color comes from something called a chromogen, a pigment-producing substance that has the ability to latch on to dental enamel and stain teeth.


Some other aspects of what you eat can help chromogens along, too. Foods and beverages that have high acidity levels can erode your teeth enamel, which then gives chromogens even more opportunities to latch on and stick around. Tannins, a type of food compound that binds and precipitates proteins, also help chromogens stick to your enamel.

Speaking of tannins, they're a big component of one of our five major food culprits. What should you avoid? Read on to find out.

5: Wine

Wine is one of the biggest tooth-staining beverages around. Red wine in particular is a triple whammy: It's acidic; it contains chromogens; and it's full of tannins, naturally occurring plant polyphenols found in grapes, among other foods, that give wine an astringent taste. Tannic acid can etch into tooth enamel, allowing the color to seep into your teeth. This trifecta working together can turn your pearly whites a shade of dingy purplish-red in no time -- just sipping red wine with dinner can be enough to produce dark stains on teeth.

White wine causes its own set of troubles. Even though you won't get the obvious staining as you might with red wine, when you drink a glass of white wine, you're still consuming a highly acidic, tannin-rich beverage. Those components make your teeth more susceptible to staining by other foods and beverages you take in directly after imbibing.


What other beverages are bad for your teeth? Read on to find out.

4: Coffee and Tea

Since they both can be dark beverages and contain tannic acids, coffee and tea are big offenders when it comes to staining your teeth. The problem here is that tooth enamel, or a tooth's outer layer, is really porous. Beverages can therefore seep into those pores and stay there. Tooth enamel, by the way, isn't the white part of your tooth; it's actually a semi-translucent covering of the dentin, the white layer underneath. Coffee is full of chromogens, causing stains on your enamel that make your teeth look discolored over time.

Tea, usually seen as a healthy beverage, is just as bad as coffee -- if not worse -- when it comes to staining teeth, because it's full of tannins. Tannin-rich black tea causes the most problems for your teeth; herbal, green and white teas are not as likely to stain them.


Much like tea, some foods that you consider healthy may not be so great for the appearance of your teeth. What are the worst offenders? Read on to find out.

3: Fruits and Veggies

Sometimes, nothing tastes better than a good blackberry or cherry. Unfortunately, the pigmented molecules that give blackberries, blueberries, cherries, beets and similar fruits and vegetables their rich color also stick to tooth enamel. Rinse your mouth or brush your teeth after eating them to keep stains at bay.

Furthermore, anything made with fruits and vegetables, including juices, can stain your teeth, too. You should be careful about how much you and your children drink them. Red-colored juices, particularly grape juice, which has the same staining elements as red wine, are especially tough on white teeth. Citric juices, such as orange and grapefruit juice, naturally contain citric acid, which leads to enamel erosion.


What other deeply colored foods can stain your teeth? Read on to learn more.

2: Sauces

If a sauce like this tomato sauce can stain your clothes, it can probably stain your teeth.
If a sauce like this tomato sauce can stain your clothes, it can probably stain your teeth.

Just like dark-colored beverages, richly colored sauces can also seep into your tooth enamel and cause staining, so you'll have to be careful about how much of them you consume.

If you eat a lot of ethnic foods, you'll probably find that the sauces they incorporate could stain your teeth. Be on the lookout for dark or brightly colored sauces -- a good rule of thumb is that if the liquid could stain your clothes, it'll probably stain your teeth. Soy sauce and sauces containing balsamic vinegar also fall into this category.


Comfort foods made with brightly colored sauces, such as tomato sauces, can also significantly stain your teeth. That doesn't mean you have to completely avoid them, though. Start your meal with some stain-fighting vegetables like spinach or broccoli before you dip into the sauce. These veggies create a protective film on your teeth that covers up and shields the porous enamel.

Got a sweet tooth? You'd better be careful. Click through to find out why.

1: Candy

Coloring agents may make eating candy more fun, but they can end up on your teeth for good.
Coloring agents may make eating candy more fun, but they can end up on your teeth for good.

Regularly popping hard candy into your mouth might be a catalyst for creating a discolored smile. Many sweets contain coloring agents such as blue or red dyes, or even vegetable juices. Although these bright hues make eating sweets a lot more fun, they can also promote staining of your tooth enamel. A good rule of thumb to use in this case is, if it stains your tongue, it'll probably stain your teeth. Watch out for culprits like popsicles, too, because they may turn your teeth colors as well. This is especially true if you eat them often. Keep the sweets to a minimum, though, and your teeth will shine more brightly.

Move on to the next page for more information about keeping your smile white.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Cannas, Antonello. "Tannins: fascinating but sometimes dangerous molecules." Cornell University Department of Animal Science. (Sept. 1, 2011)
  • "Coffee, Tea, & Your Teeth." Better Homes & Gardens. (Sept. 1, 2011)
  • Colgate. "Common Causes of Tooth Discoloration." (Aug. 26, 2011)
  • "Chromogen." (Sept. 1, 2011)
  • Freeman, David. "Foods and Habits That Stain Your Teeth." Nov. 10, 2009. (Aug. 26, 2011)
  • Fritz, Anne L. "12 Foods That Stain Teeth." Aug. 5, 2011. (Aug. 26, 2011)
  • "Gnashers may be secret of success." BBC News. Dec. 27, 2005. (Aug. 26, 2010)
  • Kam, Katherine. "Tooth Enamel Erosion." WebMD. July 8, 2010. (Sept. 1, 2011)
  • Neighmond, Patti. "White Wine Stains Teeth, Too." NPR. April1, 2009. (Sept. 1, 2011)
  • "Slideshow: 10 Secrets to Brighter, Whiter Teeth." July 28 2010. (Sept. 1, 2011)
  • "Slideshow: Foods That Stain Your Teeth." Aug. 26, 2010. (Aug. 26, 2011)
  • "The Truth About Healthy Teeth: Your Guide to at-Home Dental Care." Aug. 20, 2010. (Aug. 26, 2011)