With approximately 165 million cups and 55 million cups of tea and coffee, respectively, being drank in the UK on a daily basis, we can safely say these are two of the most popular drinks we consume as a nation. However, an enjoyable a cup of coffee or tea can cause very noticeable stains on your teeth, and can have a negative effect on your oral health.
How does staining occur?
Tea and coffee stains occur when a yellowish/brownish bitter-tasting organic substance, called Tannins, builds up on the enamel of your teeth. Tannins can not only be found in these two drinks, but in any food or beverage derived from plants where the substance is present (i.e. wine).
Tannins molecules have microscopic ridges and pits that can hold food and drink particles, which can leave a yellow tint that is difficult to remove. These molecules can not only get stuck in the microscopic gaps in the enamel of your teeth, but can also stick itself to existing bacteria on the surface of your them. The longer the particles stay in the gaps, they begin to affect other layers of the tooth. Therefore, the more you drink coffee and tea and don’t do anything to remove it, the deeper the stains go. These types of stains can develop to become intrinsic stains, which are a lot harder to clean and remove.
What else do tea and coffee do to our teeth that is harmful?
Coffee and tea contain a central nervous system stimulant, which raises the activity of your muscles. This can lead to Bruxism, which is the grinding of your teeth and clenching of your jaw, which in itself can lead to other problems, such as wearing down, chipping and breaking of teeth, sleep apnea, adrenal fatigue, headaches, etc.
Coffee and tea (as well as every other beverages that you can think of that are not water!) can be potentially harmful to your teeth if you do not maintain good oral habits. This is because drinks that are not H2O cause the natural bacteria in your mouth to create acids that attack your teeth. If these acids are not cleaned away promptly and effectively, they can wear away the enamel that protects your them. Ultimately, your teeth can be left vulnerable to tooth decay. Therefore, it is essential to (1) not sip beverages all day long, and (2) maintain outstanding oral habits to prevent the build up of acids in your mouth. However, if you feel like you need to drink your daily dose of whatever beverage, it is best to drink it over a period of a few minutes rather than over a few hours. You are doing much less damage to your teeth if you gulp down that beverage!
Updates of the effect of coffee on teeth:
Recent studies, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, have shown that the only real way to have coffee by devotees, is black, strong, and unsweetened. Drinking coffee in this manner could be key to maintaining your teeth clean, albeit still running the risk of staining and acidity on tooth enamel.
Coffee that is high in caffeine has been found to destroy bacteria that causes dental plaque. Coffee beans contain an organic compound called polyphenols, that destroying bacteria on teeth by bursting it open in a process known as lyse. Although the chemical is naturally present in all coffee beans, its higher concentrations can be found with more caffeine-rich varieties, such as Robusta (also known as Coffee canephora).
Even though these new findings may sound like great news, there are a few warning. First, coffee can still stain teeth even if it may slightly help in fighting plaque. Second, the polyphenol effect only occurs when you drink your coffee black. If you use sugar, cream, or sweeteners, those counteract the work that the polyphenol does.
Similar research has been carried out on wine polyphenols and oral health. More information on this can be found in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Top tips to avoiding damaging your teeth when drinking coffee or tea:
You can protect your teeth from permanent discolouration without giving up your drinking habits. Here are some tips to save you:
- Adding bovine milk to your tea or coffee (a study published in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene found that a protein called casein can latch onto tannins and prevent staining);
- Drinking through a straw to avoid contact with your teeth (the smaller the straw, the better);
- Rinsing and/or drinking water during/after tea or coffee consumption;
- You can also steep your tea for a little less time to lighten it up a bit;
- As mentioned before, drink your cuppa over a period of a few minutes rather than over a few hours;
- Brush your teeth after you have had your morning tea or coffee;
- If you can’t brush your teeth, try snacking on raw fruits and vegetables, as these foods contain natural fibres that help break down harmful bacteria;
- Floss daily to remove the extra plaque that your toothbrush can’t reach;
- Chew sugar-free gum (the more you chew, the more saliva you produce, and this saliva will wash away acids and plaque from your teeth); and
- Visit your dentist for regular hygiene appointments.
No one is saying you have to stop enjoying your cup of coffee or tea altogether. Although tea and coffee can have a negative effect on your oral health, just be sure to maintain good oral habits, and visiting your dentist for regular dental hygiene, air polishing, and dental whitening appointments. That way, you can enjoy your favourite beverages, without leaving your pearly whites vulnerable to decay, stains, chips and breaks, and the wearing away of your teeth’s enamel!