The caffeine in the coffee, tea, cocoa, and carbonated soft drinks you consume may give you the lift in energy you need, but drinking these beverages can discolor those pearly white teeth of which you are so proud. Caffeine may have a corrosive effect on tooth enamel, resulting in a rougher enamel surface, which can stain teeth easier.
The caffeinated beverages you drink contain substances other than caffeine that can be harmful to your teeth. Knowing what these tooth-staining substances are and then taking steps your dentist recommends to minimize their adverse effects can help you keep that bright, sunny smile.
Understanding the Dynamics
Tooth enamel is porous; therefore, dark-colored drinks, such as coffee and tea, can deposit in pits and ridges in your teeth that you can't see. Without proper oral hygiene, plaque and tartar also can build up on your teeth and eventually turn your teeth yellow. To make things worse, drinking hot coffee or tea can cause tiny cracks and fractures in tooth enamel, which collect stains more easily.
Tannins – the yellowish or brownish substances in tea and coffee – cause staining on teeth. Some of the properties of tannins help chromagens – the pigmented compounds in foods and beverages – stick even more to teeth. While tea, which contains a higher level of tannins than coffee, causes tooth discoloration, drinking herbal or green teas instead of black tea leads to less staining.
Colas, which contain high levels of acid in addition to caffeine, make teeth more prone to staining. The phosphoric and citric acids in soft drinks soften and erode tooth enamel – the white, visible part of teeth. As more of the enamel erodes away, you can see more of the dentin – the bony tissue underneath – which looks yellow in color.
Taking Steps to Protect Tooth Enamel
If you don't want to give up drinking your favorite caffeinated beverages entirely, there are things you can do to lessen their tooth-discoloring effects.
Limit the amount of caffeine-containing beverages you drink. Cutting down on your intake of dark-colored drinks that contain acids and tannins exposes your teeth to less staining and yellowing, particularly near the gum line where it's harder to keep tooth enamel clean.
Drink water or rinse your mouth with water after consuming a caffeinated beverage that contains acids and tannins to help wash these substances off your teeth. Eating a celery or carrot stick – either of which is a high-water-content veggie – after drinking a cup of coffee or tea helps remove stains from teeth as well.
Whenever possible, brush your teeth after drinking coffee, tea, or dark colas. Use a whitening toothpaste to prevent staining. Flossing is important too, as it keeps your teeth clean of plaque and the stains plaque buildup causes.
Avoid sipping on caffeinated beverages throughout the day. While drinking smaller amounts at a time may seem less harmful, it actually exposes your teeth more to the staining effects. Drink your coffee, tea, or cola quickly and all at once to lessen the amount of time the caffeine, acids, and tannins are in your mouth.
See your dentist for regular checkups and professional teeth cleaning. Dental cleaning removes stubborn plaque and stains that you don't get when you brush and floss your teeth. Stains also stick to cracks on the outer surface of tooth enamel, causing teeth discoloration. Your dentist can smooth out the cracks.