7 Things to Avoid for Better Teeth—& Breath

Joanna Douglas
Senior Editor

Photo: Kutlu/Trunk Archive

You brush, rinse, floss—hopefully morning and night—but there’s one more thing you can do to keep your teeth bright and white: consider what they’re chewing. From staining and weakening your enamel to giving you bad breath, there are many hidden culprits in your diets. New York City-based periodontist Dr. Nicholas Toscano explains which items will hurt your smile—and maybe even your personal life. 

Dark Liquids—Duh!
“Teeth absorb colored liquids—coffee, tea, cola, and wine—throughout your life causing intrinsic staining of the teeth, which is hard to remove,” says Toscano. The dark liquid penetrates the enamel, causing discoloration of the dentin (the innermost layer), which is why it’s so hard to remove.

Especially Coffee
On top of the teeth damage, coffee can ruin your breath—and not just because stale coffee stinks. “It neutralizes the acid in your stomach, which sends up some gastric juice reinforcements that belong nowhere near your tongue.” Brush after you drink it, get a cleaning every six months to prevent long-term damage, and avoid it before an important event.  

Onions and Garlic
“Most of us know to steer clear of this bad breath duo, but it’s hard to do when it’s sometimes hidden as a flavor-enhancing ingredient,” says Dr. Toscano.  “Raw onions are worse than cooked, with a lingering punch that is much harder to get rid of.” He says garlic will ward off more than just vampires, and is difficult to rinse away. “When cut, it turns into propenyl sulfenic acid, which is thought to be the chemical responsible for the vegetable’s eye-watering effects.” This same element gives you stinky breath.

Anything with Seeds
“Poppy, strawberry and sesame seeds find lodging in every tooth cranny,” says Toscano. Hard to miss and even harder to remove, these culprits are embarrassing and can cause damage by hanging out in hidden places.

Corn on the Cob
Corn is great on the grill, but not stuck in yours—and it inevitably gets lodged in there. Cutting it off the cob is much easier on your teeth. 

“Horseradish sauce gets most all of its flavor from isothiocyanate, a chemical compound in the plant with a scent so putrid that it’s a natural defense against animals,” says Dr. Toscano.

Red Meat
“Red meat can sometimes leave a funky taste in your mouth, not to mention those hard to pick out pieces that get stuck between your teeth,” says Toscano, who calls ribs the worst. Add some sugary, cling-to-your-teeth BBQ sauce and you have a recipe for cavities.