Like scoring a big promotion or a date with your longtime crush, a luminous, white smile is the stuff dreams are made of. And it’s no wonder, considering how much the appearance of our teeth affects our image.
Case in point: As far back as 2008, research showed that people with whiter teeth were perceived as more socially competent, smarter, more satisfied with their relationships, and more psychologically adjusted.
And, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, 48 percent of adults believe that a smile is the feature that makes the biggest first impression.
Needless to say, we were curious to find which foods and drinks lead to a more radiant smile — and which ones tint and tarnish our pearly whites. That’s why we got the straight talk from the pros: dentists and periodontists.
Read on for the foods that dull your smile and which ones will make it sparkle.
Sorry, java junkies: Your favorite cure for tired mornings contains tannins (acidic flavor compounds) that lead to staining and discoloration, according to Sally Cram, a periodontist in private practice in Washington, D.C.
Plus, because it’s acidic, coffee alters the pH balance of the mouth, allowing any acidic foods you eat afterward to damage the teeth much more quickly, explains Kourosh Maddahi, DDS, a cosmetic dentist based in Beverly Hills.
His solution: Drink your coffee with a to-go lid — not a straw. Doing so will cut back on the acidic environment coffee creates in the mouth, plus prevent the fine lines that form when you pucker your lips to sip from a straw.
Just like coffee, tea also contains those staining saboteurs known as tannins, so sipping on a cup of chai may lead to stains, Cram says.
But there’s more to it than that — like the particular hue that tea may turn your teeth. “Green tea stains teeth gray, and black tea stains them yellow,” Maddahi explains.
If green tea is your go-to, he suggests investing in a high quality option — the lower the quality, the worse the stain it’ll cause. And if you just can’t bid the brew adieu, use Maddahi’s to-go coffee lid trick.
You might also consider adding a dash of milk to your cup. Research suggests that adding milk to your tea slashes its ability to stain your teeth.
Sugar-laden beverages act the same as sugar-laden snacks, giving the bacteria in your mouth plenty to feed off of (thus releasing damaging acids), Cram says.
Sodas are especially dangerous, since anything carbonated is also acidic and can erode the teeth. This includes sugar-free versions too, Maddahi says. (But did we really need another reason to steer clear of soda?)
Cue the sad violin. As it turns out, sipping on sauvignon blanc can also steal some of the white away from your smile.
White wine, though sometimes sweeter than red, still has plenty of acid — once again breaking down your enamel and exposing the yellower dentin underneath.
One way to minimize the damage? Studies show that holding acidic drinks in the mouth for too long leads to tooth erosion — so don’t swish that Chardonnay around in your mouth for more than a second or 2.
Red wine may be responsible for teeth that have turned shades of gray — which, unluckily, are harder to remove than yellowish stains, Maddahi says. The culprits? The same pesky tannins we see in tea and coffee, which red wine has a lot of.
But there’s a silver lining: While your favorite Malbec may not help your pearly whites stay that way, recent research suggests that red wine may actually help fight bacteria causing cavities.
Citrus and acidic foods
If you notice a yellowish tinge to your teeth, acidic foods (think citrus fruits and tomatoes) might be to blame. Even though they’re nutrient-packed, these colorful eats can erode your enamel.
According to Cram, this might expose the yellow-hued dentin — aka the tissue beneath the enamel made up of mostly calcium and phosphate crystals.
That whole sugar-will-rot-your-teeth-out thing? It’s a bit dramatic, but kind of hinged on fact.
The sugars in delicious treats like cookies and hard candy (and even carbs that get broken down into sugars in foods like chips) latch onto your teeth and become the main meal for the bacteria in your mouth.
When the bacteria feed off these sugars, they release acids that lead to tooth decay, which may be dark and cause black holes in your teeth, Cram says.
For dental (and general) health, it’s best to limit sugar. When the sweet stuff is calling your name, try a no-sugar-added dessert.
Blueberries, blackberries, and pomegranates
While they may be chock-full of antioxidants, these richly pigmented berries have a serious stain game.
Maddahi’s rule of thumb when it comes to these little superfoods: If it’s difficult to remove their stain from clothing, it’s going to be difficult removing it from teeth.
With all their health benefits, yanking these healthy fruits from your diet isn’t necessarily the best move, though. Instead, swish with water after that berry smoothie, or give your teeth a quick brush.
When it comes to your diet and whiter teeth, it’s not all bad news! For a flashier smile, incorporate the following foods into your daily diet.
Strawberry fields forever may be the way to go if you’re looking for a natural way to whiten your smile.
The red berries contain malic acid, which may be responsible for this effect, Maddahi says. You can even double up and mash them with baking soda for DIY whitening solution.
However, science says that while it does seem to make your teeth look whiter (since you’re removing some of the plaque), it doesn’t penetrate the enamel to provide real, long-lasting results.
High-fiber fruits, like pears and apples, may help whiten your teeth, Maddahi says.
Not only do they boost saliva flow (which helps keep teeth clean), but their fiber content removes some stains by scrubbing the surface of the teeth, he explains.
Just be sure to limit your fruit intake, since fruit still contains sugars. Brushing your teeth twice a day and rinsing after eating can stop the fruits from sticking around longer than they have to.
You wouldn’t want to eat it all on its own, but baking soda makes a handy food-based toothpaste. Gently scrubbing with the white powdery stuff will whiten teeth naturally, Maddahi says. Simply wet your toothbrush and dip into the powder.
One caveat: Don’t make it an everyday habit. Since the abrasive properties of baking soda may cause damage to the enamel of your teeth, Maddahi recommends using this method just once a week.
We’re nuts about nuts around here! These small-but-mighty bites boast a slew of health benefits, from boosting weight loss.
Now we can add one more to the list: strengthening our teeth. Because of their protein content, nuts protect our teeth and keep them strong, Cram says.
Plus, the chewing it takes to eat each one helps stimulate saliva production, so they also help clean the mouth, she adds.
Good news, cheesemongers: You may be fighting cavities with every delicious bite.
Research suggests that eating the savory stuff may lead to a higher pH level in the mouth, which slashes the risk for cavities (and can help neutralize an acidic environment).
Water does more than just keep you hydrated. Drinking plenty of H2O (fluoridated water in particular) helps battle tooth decay. Can’t brush after a meal? Simply swish around some water to clear sugars and acids.
If you’re seeing tons of stains, try to cut your intake of the foods on the “naughty” list above to every other day (at most), says Cram.
And most importantly, stay on top of your regular dental habits, like flossing daily, brushing twice a day, and popping into your dentist’s office for regular check-ups. It may not sound glamorous, but habits like these are what really yield that movie-star smile.