7 Surprising Ways You Discolor Your Teeth

Learn how making some lifestyle adjustments can help brighten your smile.

Medically reviewed in March 2022

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By Taylor Lupo

The causes of tooth discoloration may surprise you. Your diet, lifestyle choices and even your mouthwash can stain and discolor your smile. The bright side? There are a variety of ways—including inexpensive, at-home remedies—to remove stains and whiten your teeth.

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You Eat Certain Foods

Fruits and veggies are good for our bodies, but what about our teeth? Berries, grapefruit and potatoes can stain your teeth and erode enamel. You can avoid stains by brushing your teeth after enjoying these foods.

Why: Certain foods can damage your enamel—the outer layer of your teeth. The colors in berries can stain teeth, whether eaten whole, as a juice or in a jam. The acidity in grapefruit can erode your tooth enamel, making it discolored. Potatoes are filled with starch, which is turned to sugar as your chew—sugar is your smile’s kryptonite.

How to Whiten: Professional cleanings and at-home oral care—brushing, flossing and rinsing—can remove stains and whiten teeth.

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Your Drinks Are Acidic

Coffee and red wine are well-known teeth stainers, but white wine and sports drinks can leave their mark, too.

Why: Sports drinks, soda, wine and tea are some of the leading causes of tooth erosion and discoloration. Surprisingly, white wines are more acidic than their red counterparts. The acidity in these drinks breaks down enamel and diminishes the white luster of your teeth.

How to Whiten: An easy fix is limiting your intake of acidic drinks. If you do drink them, wait at least 30 minutes to brush. You could increase the damage while your teeth are in this weakened stage. Brushing and flossing can remove stains, but you may also need a professional cleaning.

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You're Getting Older

Crow’s feet and laugh lines aren’t the only signs of age—your teeth change with the years, too. Age-related tooth discoloration is a combination of the foods you eat and drink and your body’s natural progression.

Why: As we get older, the dentin, or inner part of our teeth, begins to yellow. After years of an acidic diet, your tooth enamel may thin, revealing the yellow hue beneath. Inevitable tartar buildup can also give your teeth a yellow, or even brown, color.

How to Whiten: In-office or at-home bleaching treatments can make your pearlies white again. In-office whitening procedures can cost $600 or more, while DIY options typically cost less than $100.

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You Don't Brush Correctly

If you don’t take care of your teeth, your smile will pay the price in more than cavities. Poor cleaning causes discolored teeth.

Why: The way you brush matters. To prevent stains and erosion, brush your teeth within 30 minutes of eating. Brush for two minutes, holding the brush at a 45-degree angle to remove more plaque and clean under the gum line, where plaque hides. Don’t forget the backs of your teeth!

How to Whiten: Religious brushing along with visits to your dentist for regular cleanings can help prevent discoloration. Plaque can be removed with brushing and flossing, but once it turns into tartar it’ll need to be removed at your dentist’s office.

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You Use The Wrong Mouth Wash

While you gargle with mouthwash with the best intentions, you may be contributing to discoloration. Ingredients like chlorhexidine gluconate, found in some mouth rinses, can stain teeth.

Why: Chlorhexidine gluconate-containing mouthwashes are typically prescribed to treat gingivitis—a cause of gum inflammation, redness and bleeding. An unfortunate, and common, side effect is tooth and oral surface staining. This agent may also cause a buildup of tartar, which can alter tooth color.

How to Whiten: These stains tend to be temporary and can be removed at a professional cleaning appointment. Brushing and flossing can also prevent discoloration and calcification.

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You Take Certain Medications

Antihistamines, drugs prescribed to treat high blood pressure, certain antibiotics and antidepressants can cause tooth discoloration.

Why: Medications discolor teeth in patients with existing enamel defects and a buildup of dental plaque, particularly for antibiotic use in children and during pregnancy. Poor oral hygiene doesn’t help.

How to Whiten: Medications can cause intrinsic and extrinsic discoloration. Stains on the outside of the teeth can be treated with in-office or at-home whitening procedures. Intrinsic strains may be treated with professional whitening techniques and in more severe cases, veneers.

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You Use Tobacco

Add to the long list of reasons why smoking is bad for your health the way in which it causes yellow, brown and even black discoloration. Chewing tobacco has the same bad affect on color.

Why: Nicotine and tar stain teeth. It’s not more complicated than that.

How to Whiten: Prevent tobacco-related tooth stains by not smoking or chewing tobacco. Whitening toothpastes, recommended by your dentist, may help remove stains caused by smoking. In-office whitening procedures may also be helpful, and necessary, for removing plaque.

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