Here’s How to Avoid Staining Your Smile With Summer’s Best Cocktails
Sure, beaches, bikinis, and tans are all synonymous with the summer, but so are ice-cold cocktails. After all, it is rosé season. Though there is an endless array of amazing mixed drinks to sip, those boozy beverages can take a toll on your teeth, namely eroding the enamel and staining them.
“What we eat and drink also play a role in how our teeth look,” explains LA-based orthodontist and dental researcher Michael Florman. “Foods and drinks composed of ‘tooth staining organic compounds’ and acids (lower pH) constantly attack our enamel, causing staining and demineralization. The acids in foods and drinks weaken the enamel surface allowing for more staining compounds to attach and settle in.”
But tinting your smile can largely depend on what you ask the bartender for. To help you make a better selection, dental experts advised us on which drinks do the most damage to your teeth and what you need to do to ensure your teeth remain pearly white.
We all know that red wine can color our teeth, but it can be quite hard to resist when it’s served up in the form of a fruit-filled sangria. Dr. Elisa Mello of NYC Smile Design says red wine is one of the worst drinks to imbibe since we tend to take long sips that can make its tannins stick to your teeth. “With wine, you’re sipping it so the contact time on your teeth is particularly long,” she says. “Most people probably drink more in the summer [since] they’re out more, socializing.”
To stop or slow down the staining, it’s best to stick to white and blush wines for your wet bar as they have a lower amount or, in some cases, no tannins to taint the hue of your enamel. Though adding ice to your drink can cut down on the tannin count, both experts suggest having a glass of water with every cocktail you consume whether it’s wine or otherwise. As Florman says, “Water will neutralize the acid attack while rinsing down the tannins, chromogens, and sugars, keeping you hydrated, which will allow you to produce more saliva which is the body’s best defense in combating acid and sugar attacks.”
Speaking of sugar and acid, the flood of fruity cocktails always reaches its peak this time of year with the likes of negronis, mojitos, and many more that feature stone and citrus fruits in the mix. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a ranking of fruits by their pH levels, or how acidic they are, and lemons top the list. They’re quickly followed by limes, plums, grapes, pomegranates, grapefruits, blueberries, pineapples, apples, peaches, mangoes, oranges, and tomatoes. Yup, even your brunch Bloody Mary can do a little damage.
Besides those corrosive components, Florman notes that fruits that pack a lot of pigment aren’t the only produce that can dye your chompers. “Highly colored fruits and vegetables contain chromogens, compounds that can be used to create dyes found in blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and beets and tomatoes,” he says. A good rule of thumb: The darker the produce, the likelier it will leave a mark.
The margarita, though, could be the cocktail exception to the rule. Thanks to the sprinkle of salt that often rims the glass, your salivary glands kick into action, which help to wipe away the acid and sugar before it settles on your smile. “Alcohol inhibits your salivary flow… but the salt stimulates it. So in that manner, saliva is a natural pH buffer,” Mello says, noting the many mixologists might use salt to stimulate the drinker’s saliva to enhance the taste of the aperitif.
Florman suggests having your alcohol served on the rocks or neat to easily imbibe with sacrificing your favorite spirit. Or you could look at the lighter side of the liquor aisle and choose clear alcohols like, gin and vodka, instead. “Vodka and other similar spirits have a high acidic content, but gin has a more neutral acidity,” says Mello.
Though water can help reduce the amount of decay-causing bits in your booze, not all water is created equal. Seltzer, tonic, and other carbonated beverages, even if they don’t contain sugar, can chip away at your enamel, leaving it open to stains from beverages like teas and coffee (both of which also contain tannins like wine) and even sauces. “Many of my patients say, ‘I don’t drink any soda. I only have seltzer,’” she explains. “That’s the acidic part of [soda], and sometimes you get erosion from it. And some people add lime to it as well.”
Yup, the college party staple is actually one of the safest boozy beverages to sip without the worry of stains. “Another good option is a light beer because they’re low-carb, lower acidity, and [contain] more water,” advises Mello. Low-carb means less sugar, which means less damage to your teeth.
Plus, it shouldn’t be hard to get your hands on an ale or something similar during the season. While there are some dark beers that are offered year round, you’re more likely to see lighter fare like pale ales and pilsners at your local liquor store. You might just have to steer clear of shandies and beers served with a slice of citrus since those acids can open you up to damage.
Ways to Whiten
But regardless of which cocktail you choose, there are plenty of ways to get rid of any serious stains you sustain, so your smile shines brightly throughout the rest of the summer. Sure, brushing and flossing are a regular part of our routine, but you might want to also run a brush through your mouth before bed lest that alcohol stick around while your sleep. Or you could opt for whitening treatments. Florman recommends spritzing your mouth with WhitenFresh ($13), a breath spray formulated with a patent-pending hydrogen peroxide cleaning formula that immediately breaks down organic particles that stain teeth.
On the other hand, Mello suggests sticking with proven methods like in-office treatments as well as whitening trays and strips. Though you should stay away from whitening toothpaste. “If you had something acidic on your teeth already, you don’t want to rub something abrasive on it because it’s going to scratch it even more,” Mello cautions.
And now that we know which drinks will do the least damage, we’ll raise a glass maintaining our white smile throughout the rest of the season.
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