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Health Topic of the week: 5 Surprising Smile Saboteurs (Teeth Stainers)

You know coffee and red wine can stain your teeth, but there are other, sneakier culprits that can yellow your smile and damage your teeth. Find out what might be dulling your pearly whites — and how to keep them sparkling.

By Alexis Farah

Water Hazard

Swimming a few laps in the pool is great exercise, but this fitness routine could be eroding your enamel. Chlorine — which gets in your mouth while you’re swimming more often than you realize — has a low pH balance, which can cause dental abrasion, eventually leaving your teeth brittle, sensitive and prone to decay.

Smile saver: “Opt for salt-water swimming whenever possible,” says Irwin Smigel, DDS, a celebrity cosmetic dentist in New York City and president of the American Society of Dental Aesthetics. “Salt water is actually good for your teeth and has a natural antibacterial and healing effect on your mouth.”

Don’t have a salt-water option? Chew on this as soon as you step out of the pool: Supersmile Professional Whitening Gum ($4), which has ingredients to stabilize the pH balance of your mouth, counteracting the acidity that leads to erosion.

Dangerous Drinks

Refreshing beverages like lemonade, iced tea and citrus sports drinks are loaded with enamel-weakening acid. As a result, your mouth may experience sensitivity and dental erosion. What’s more, erosion makes your teeth more vulnerable to other staining agents. “Teeth are porous, and over a period of time, liquids seep into the enamel rods — microscopic hollow canals that make up enamel — and darken your teeth,” says cosmetic dentist and Daily Glow expert Marc Lowenberg, DDS.

Smile saver: Your best bet is to drink water whenever possible. But if you do consume one of these acidic options, sip water between glasses, Dr. Smigel advises.

A White Wrong

You know that red wine can deposit a dingy residue on your teeth, but white wine can also dim your smile. “The high acidity in white wine erodes enamel, causing rough spots and grooves that leave teeth vulnerable to stains from colored food and drinks like tea, coffee and berries,” Dr. Smigel says. White wines are generally more acidic than reds, he explains; sweet wines also tend to have higher acidity to balance their high sugar content.

Smile saver: Drinking water and eating bread between sips of wine will offset the effects of stains by reducing the acidity in your mouth, thereby protecting your enamel.

Lip Disservice

Bold lip shades of coral and peach may be trendy this season, but there’s nothing fashionable about how they dim a bright smile. “These shades have orange and yellow casts or undertones,” says Dr. Smigel, “and they’ll make your teeth appear duller and more yellow.”

Smile saver: Take a hint from Gwen Stefani and wear a true red lipstick with blue undertones — the bold color and contrast makes your pearly whites really pop. Try CoverGirl Lip Perfection Lipstick in Hot ($6.99).

Berry Bad News

Eating berries offers many health benefits — and one major drawback: sipping fruit juice or berry smoothies can discolor your teeth. The same pigments that contain berries’ beneficial antioxidants also leave a cast on your smile.

Smile saver: “Drinking with a straw will help the liquid pass to the back of your mouth, avoiding your teeth,” Dr. Lowenberg says, adding that you can also eat other fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots and celery to counteract discoloration: “They exfoliate your teeth and naturally remove surface stains.” You can also keep your teeth white by brushing with a toothpaste containing silica — an ingredient that naturally exfoliates stains. Try Crest Complete Multi-Benefit Whitening + Deep Clean toothpaste ($3.79).