Teeth stain causes: foods, drinks, medications and bad habits

You may think that your teeth are stained because of poor oral hygiene, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Though it is a cause, it is only one of many. Your teeth can become discolored due to the foods and drinks you consume, unhealthy habits among other reasons.

Your teeth are more likely to become stained because of some obvious culprits, such as coffee, tea, cola products. If you consume them infrequently, then brushing immediately after can remove most of the staining agents. But after consuming these beverages consistently over time with longer periods before brushing, the staining agents can be absorbed below your tooth surface, creating the discoloration.


There are two main types of tooth stains:

Intrinsic stains

Intrinsic stains – occur inside the tooth structure and cannot be removed by professional scaling (cleaning) or polishing. Stains can result from alterations during tooth development, associated with antibiotic use (tetracycline), trauma, infection and dental fluorosis – swallowing large amounts of fluoride that cause white/ brown spots on teeth and weaken the enamel.

Extrinsic stains

Extrinsic stains – appear on the tooth surface and can usually be removed by professional scaling or polishing. Stains occur from dyes in food, beverages, tobacco, mouth rinses, exposure to metallic compounds, the presence of chromogenic bacteria (colour-producing bacteria) and poor oral hygiene. The stains are absorbed onto tooth surface deposits such as plaque bacteria (white, sticky substance) that accumulate on teeth, especially around the gum line.

What Causes Teeth Stains? 

Here’s what stains teeth the most:

Acidic and citrus food

Acidic and citrus food

Acidic and Citrus Foods break down the enamel to expose the dentin – yellow-ish tissue beneath the enamel that is made up of calcium and phosphate crystals.



Coffee contains tannins that results in staining and discoloration. It’s also acidic, altering the pH balance of the mouth. What does this mean? Other acidic foods will damage your teeth even more quickly.



the darker the tea, the more likely it will stain your teeth. Herbal and white teas can still wear away the enamel of and cause stains, too.


Sweets can change your tongue’s color, which means they can also stain your teeth. But unless you eat them frequently, you’ll probably be okay.

 Curry and tomato sauce

Curry and tomato sauce

They may be tasty, but curry and tomato sauce cause teeth stains. Not only are curries and tomato sauce highly saturated, color-wise, but they’re also acidic. Try using light-colored or creamy sauces. Rinse your mouth and brush your teeth soon after eating.

Sports and energy drinks

Sports or energy drinks can erode enamel as well, leaving your teeth more vulnerable for stains. The citric acid in the drinks not only serve as preservatives enhancing flavor and shelf life, it’s also eroding your enamel.


The dark compounds in dark-colored sodas cause surface staining on your teeth. Then, your tooth enamel absorbs these compounds, causing brown or yellow discoloration. Once again, acids and dyes are the culprits.

Holding food and drink in your mouth

The longer something is in contact with your teeth, the more time it has to leave stains behind, or for acidic ingredients to act on the enamel. Try not to keep food or drink in your mouth for longer than necessary before swallowing. Consider using a straw for some drinks – this helps limit contact of the front teeth with the liquid.

Not drinking enough water

Drinking the recommended quantity of water throughout the day is important for hydration, but it can also help to remove stains by rinsing away staining substances left on the teeth. If you live in a fluoridated area, drinking tap water with fluoride can also help to protect your teeth against decay.


There are many health reasons to quit smoking already, but tobacco is also a major cause of teeth stains, whether it’s smoked or chewed. Besides stains, smoking is one of the common risk factors for many oral health problems, including gum disease and oral cancer. The sooner you can quit, the sooner your body can start to recover.

Not brushing and flossing your teeth

Dental plaque that forms on the surfaces of teeth tends to retain the stains, and good oral hygiene helps reduce the build-up of plaque. Dentists recommend brushing teeth twice a day, preferably using fluoride toothpaste, and using dental floss at least once a day. And, of course, eating a healthy balanced diet without too much sugar can help too.

Not visiting the dentist

Regular check-up with your dentist is another important cornerstone of a good oral care routine. Your dentist can check your teeth and gums for early signs of problems and also offer advice about how to help keep your teeth healthy.

If you’re interested in a cosmetic treatment, they can help you understand the possible risks and costs involved so you can make an informed decision that’s right for you.

Tooth Stains in Technicolor

The color of stained teeth can range from yellow-brown/dark brown to green, orange, bluish-gray and even black! Let’s take a look at the different colors of stained teeth and their causes.

Yellow-Brown/Dark Brown Stained Teeth

 If you regularly drink beverages like coffee, tea, or soda, your teeth may eventually start to develop a yellowish-brown or dark brown tint. This is an extrinsic type of tooth stain, resulting more from the interaction between a substance with your tooth’s calculus or plaque than the color of the food or beverage.

Plaque itself may also be the culprit of yellow-brown or dark brown tooth stains; poor oral hygiene can allow plaque to build up, making your teeth look dull and lackluster. If you smoke or chew tobacco, you can count on your teeth turning yellow-brown and eventually dark brown after years of use.

Baby teeth that have been injured or infected may lead to brownish tooth stains in permanent teeth. Aging can cause brown tooth stains, too. Fact is your teeth are like anything else that endures years of use – they become a little less shiny, a little less bright over time. Don’t fret: It’s the norm rather than the exception. Later, we’ll go over how to get rid of them.

Green Stained Teeth

 It sounds strange, but tooth stains can actually be light to dark green in color. Green stains are more commonly found on children’s teeth. The causes vary from exposure to copper, nickel and mercury to the presence of fluorescent bacteria and fungi. Certain blood diseases can also cause greenish tooth stains, as can decomposed hemoglobin or a stained enamel cuticle (the Nasmyth’s membrane). These stains typically affect anterior teeth (the six upper and lower front teeth).

Orange Stained Teeth

 Orange tooth stains typically occur near the gum line and are caused by the presence of chromogenic (photographic) bacteria or food buildup. Children are especially prone to orange tooth stains, usually as a result of improper or infrequent brushing.

Bluish-Gray Stained Teeth

 Bluish-gray stains are intrinsic and caused by exposure to medications like tetracycline. This can happen in utero, when the tooth structure is forming; expecting mothers who take tetracycline can transfer it to the fetus.

Black Stained Teeth

 Black tooth stains are extrinsic tooth stains and sometimes appear in the form of a black line on the anterior teeth. Iron supplements or mouthwashes containing chlorohexedine can cause black tooth stains.

White Spots

 Fluorosis, the condition resulting from fluoride overuse, can cause opaque white lines or splotches on teeth. This type of tooth stain is intrinsic.


  • Plaque forms a rough surface on enamel where stains can attach, giving teeth a dull and unsightly appearance.
  • Poor oral hygiene allows plaque and stains to build up.
  • Some restorations and crowded teeth can make plaque removal difficult.
  • Dry mouth and the absence of saliva to wash away food and harmful bacteria promote plaque growth.

Tooth whitening

Bleaching uses chemicals to change the natural tooth color. However, it does not work on restorations such as implants, veneers, crowns, or porcelain fillings. Bleaching is also not effective if your teeth are discolored due to medication or trauma. To be sure whether bleaching will work on your teeth, talk to your dentist.

Most bleaching products use the same active chemicals (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide). The main difference between products is the strength of the active chemical.

Because bleaching chemicals can irritate the gums, over-the-counter products that you can buy at the store, such as whitening strips, contain a lower percentage of chemicals compared to those used by dental professionals. These over-the-counter products are often just as effective, but may require more applications to get results.

In a dental office, you might need only a single visit to whiten your teeth. The active chemicals can be stronger because the dentist uses tools or products to protect your gums. The whitening agent is sometimes combined with light to speed the results. Dentists can also create custom trays to fit your teeth and combine them with a professional whitening gel that you can use at home.

Does professional teeth whitening work?

These procedures are considered safe, though you can expect some sensitivity in your teeth and gums, which usually resolves after the whitening procedure is complete. It is not uncommon for the tooth color to “rebound” a week or two following this type of treatment, so using an at-home product may help maintain the results following the treatment.

When you undergo an in-office whitening procedure, your dental professional will apply the bleaching solution directly to your teeth and may possibly use a laser or other specialized device to speed up the bleaching process. You can expect to see some results after one treatment, but you may choose to have more than one treatment to get the effect that you want. An in-office bleaching treatment usually takes 30 to 60 minutes.

How long does teeth whitening last?

That depends in part on your habits. If you smoke, or if you drink large amounts of coffee or tea, you may need another procedure after a few years.


Does this mean you are destined for a life of less-than-white teeth? Not necessarily. Here are some tips to help you minimize or even prevent the appearance of stained teeth and maintain excellent oral hygiene at the same time:

Watch what you eat

 As stated earlier, black teas, coffee, colas can stain your teeth, but other foods can as well. Blueberries, curries, soy sauce, beets, and red fruit juices are a few examples. Also, when there is an accelerated amount of fluoride in the water supply, drinking tap water can cause brown stains to appear. Have these foods and drinks in moderation, and brush soon as soon as you can afterwards.

Eat a balanced diet

 The best way to keep your teeth looking healthy is to have a healthy diet. It will keep your teeth and gums strong, and that will affect how you smile.

Brush after eating

Brushing your teeth removes food particles, plaque, and tartar that can harm your teeth – and it can remove stains as well. Brush after eating or drinking substances that can stain your teeth will keep them looking as white as possible.

Stop smoking

 Another big factor in tooth discoloration is smoking, which includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco.  With consistent and prolonged use, they will cause your teeth to become yellowed. The best remedy for your stained teeth and overall health is simple: avoid tobacco!

Visit your dentist

 The most important way to keep your teeth looking white is to visit your dentist. Not only will they help you maintain healthy teeth – and healthy teeth means a great smile – but they can recommend additional methods to keep that sparkle in a way that works for you.

Flashing a great smile will make anyone’s day. And you can make that smile a dazzling one by minimizing or removing the stains that can appear by following the tips above.