How Bad is Coffee, Really?

It’s the morning of your child’s graduation. You sip your coffee, scan your to-do list another time, trying to make sure you have everything together. But when you put the coffee down and look in the mirror to make sure you are photo-ready, you notice your teeth are stained an unattractive yellowish hue.

Unfortunately, it’s not just an old wives’ tale. Coffee really is harmful to your dental health.

Today we’ll examine three of coffee’s most potent effects on your dental health: staining, halitosis, and of course, enamel erosion.

Effect #1: Staining

Coffee is famous for turning the brightest of smiles to a dull yellow-brown. It’s why celebrities carefully sip their coffees through straws—they have to protect their perfect teeth! To understand how coffee stains your teeth, it’s important to understand what elements cause staining in the first place.

Discolored teeth are a result of three main forces: chromogens, tannins, and acids.

Chromogens are compounds that stick to enamel, and unfortunately, they also contain particularly strong pigments. They are the reason that red wine, for example, is so effective at reversing that at-home whitening kit you tried. Chromogens are known to cause a “lot of trouble when they mix and react with other stain-causing and stain-promoting factors.”

Tannins are a compound found in coffee and tea. Tannins enhance the ability of chromogens to

stain your teeth by allowing the highly-pigmented chromogens to bind themselves even more tightly to the enamel.

The final instigator of the issue is perhaps the most familiar: acid. While tannins and chromogens cling to the enamel, leaving a brown film, acids go about their tooth-staining work by eating away at the enamel itself. What results is a rough, brittle patch that has no power to withstand the strong, staining substances that come its way. Acids create fertile ground for chromogens and tannins to do their work.

Together, these three create a powerful trio that can damage even the brightest of smiles.

Therein lies the strength of coffee as a staining agent. As you likely know, coffee is highly acidic. But it’s also rich in chromogens and tannins, creating the perfect storm.

Effect #2: Halitosis

More commonly known as bad breath, or in this case, coffee breath, halitosis is perhaps the most well-known and disliked effect of your morning cup of coffee. Who hasn’t suffered through a long morning of coffee breath at work when you forgot your pack of gum at home?

But why does coffee play such a role in causing offensive breath? That would be because of its unfortunate tendency to stick to your tongue. And believe it or not, research shows that the more add-ins you mix into your coffee, the worse off you’ll be. Rather than diluting the effect of black coffee, adding milk, sugar and creamers simply give the bacteria more to feed on, worsening your breath in the end.

Effect #3: Enamel Erosion

Enamel erosion may not be at the very top of your list of Dangers to Avoid, but you should be cautious. Enamel is described as, “…the thin outer covering of the tooth. This tough shell is the hardest tissue in the human body. Enamel covers the crown which is the part of the tooth that’s visible outside of the gums.” As you might imagine, this tough protective cover on your teeth is essential to their health. That’s why it’s so dangerous when your tooth chips or cracks, or when substances cause it to erode.

Coffee is, unfortunately, one of those substances. Coffee’s high acidity wears away the enamel, causing it to break down over time. What’s more, whereas a broken bone will be naturally healed by the body, enamel contains no living cells that will go to work patching up the damage.

Once the damage it done, it’s done for good.

Preventing Coffee’s Corrosive Effects

As of 2021, approximately 64% of American adults consume coffee every day, with Americans as a whole drinking about 146 billion cups of coffee per year. Chances are, you fall somewhere in that statistic. So, if coffee is something you rely on to get you through the day, consider these practices to combat the harmful effects.

· Take your coffee with a meal. If you pair your coffee with your breakfast or a snack, the saliva in your mouth will be activated. This could help by washing out the tannins in your coffee, thus reducing some of the staining effect.

· Brush your teeth 30 minutes after drinking coffee. You may have vague memories of a dentist telling you to brush your teeth after eating or drinking. While this is a good instinct, coffee contains acid, and it’s important to wait 30 minutes to brush your teeth after eating or drinking anything acidic! Brushing your teeth is a great way to reduce the bacteria and remove the stains, but if you don’t wait, you will only damage the enamel further due to the abrasive acids.

· Consider professional whitening. If you find that your teeth are still yellow, despite implementing good dental habits, it may be time for a professional whitening! In-office whitening is available and is one of the most effective solutions to finally getting rid of that yellow-brown stain coffee leaves. Call our office today, and we would be happy to schedule an appointment.

It’s important to understand the effects a drink we consume so regularly can have on our dental health. Knowing can prepare us to respond effectively and have a photo-ready smile regardless! Read here if you’re wondering if your sparkling water is bad for your teeth.

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