Bad Beans: Why Coffee Can Hurt Your Smile (and What You Can Do About It)

coffee_70116983-900Each morning, entering the office, I fetch my “Good health starts here” travel mug and pour myself some coffee. To me, the habit isn’t entirely out of choice — read: excruciating caffeine withdrawals otherwise — but the antioxidants and beneficial nutrients in coffee are certainly a perk.

The benefits to drinking coffee are many. Coffee can:

Unfortunately, coffee and teeth don’t go well together. You might even say coffee has stained its reputation with teeth.

Why Coffee Stains Teeth

If you were to magnify the tooth — enough to see the enamel — you’d discover a tooth isn’t made up of a single piece of enamel. It’s made up of many enamel rods. And we mean many: One tooth can contain anywhere from 5 million to 12 million enamel rods.

On the surface of the tooth, the rods run parallel to one another, but deep down, they wind together.

As it pertains to coffee — imagine enamel rods like bristles on a brush, just crystallized (because an enamel rod is a tightly packed mass of hydroxyapatite crystals).

Now, imagine coffee seeping between the bristles. That’s kind of what happens with teeth, except it’s the pigment from coffee embedding itself in the rows of enamel rods. The pigment is responsible for the discoloration.

And, unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there.

More Bad News

  • If you prefer your coffee hot, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Hot drinks tend to discolor enamel over time, as the temperature changes cause teeth to expand and contract slightly. This can make it easier for dark stains to penetrate between enamel rods.
  • And no, it doesn’t help if you’ve lightened the color of the coffee with creamer and sugar; the coffee still contains the same pigments.
  • Stains don’t just apply to coffee, either. For example, tea, red wine and soda can also stain teeth. In fact, some tea — like green and black tea — can stain teeth worse than coffee, because it contains higher amounts of tannins. Tannins are chemical compounds known for having a calming effect, but they also get stuck between enamel rods.

So what does this mean for your future with coffee? If you’re like me, giving up coffee isn’t an option — read: excruciating caffeine withdrawals.

Luckily, you have some other options. Five steps you can take include:

Five Steps You Can Take to Lessen Coffee Stains

  1. Drink through a straw. While the amount of sugar in your Starbucks Frappuccino is nothing to smile about, the straw it comes with might be. Drinking through a straw lessens the contact of coffee with your teeth, and can cut down on staining.
  2. Rinse your mouth after you drink coffee. By rinsing your mouth out with water, you can neutralize your mouth’s pH levels. You can also use antibacterial mouthwash to loosen up particles on the teeth.
  3. Wait 30 minutes before brushing. It’s a good idea to wait 30 minutes after drinking coffee before brushing. Otherwise, you’ll dig acids deeper into your enamel.
  4. Have a brushing routine. Brushing and flossing twice a day can cut down on tooth stains.
  5. Schedule a professional cleaning once every six months. Your dentist can polish away built up stains, brightening your smile.

Coffee can be hard on the teeth. But it can be even harder to give up. And with September 29 being National Coffee Day, we don’t want to downplay the real benefits of drinking coffee in moderation. So wake up, smell the coffee and take the steps you need to protect your smile.

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