We all know the common (delicious) culprits that stain our pearly whites. Coffee, tea, red wine: We see you. But are there any foods or drinks that can actually do the opposite?
Believe it or not, the answer is yes. Not only can the right foods and drinks help scrub away stains and make your teeth look brighter, but some can also actually strengthen your chompers from the inside—and make them whiter on the outside.
So if you’re curious about how to whiten teeth naturally, here are eight dentist-approved picks to add to your menu.
It’s a double-whammy, dental-wise. Yogurt is rich in calcium, which is essential for keeping your teeth looking healthy and bright. “Calcium-rich foods help strengthen the enamel, the outer layer of teeth that give them their whiteness,” says Timothy Chase, DMD, a cosmetic dentist at SmilesNY in Manhattan.
It’s also a good source of phosphorus, a mineral that works like a wingman to make calcium’s effects more potent. “While phosphorus doesn’t have a specific whitening effect, it does help maintain the enamel that gives teeth their outer beauty,” Chase says. Just steer clear of the flavored stuff. Over time, those added sugars can break down tooth enamel, dulling your smile.
Like yogurt, it’s rich in the enamel strengtheners calcium and phosphorus. You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck from hard cheeses like cheddar, Gruyere, and Parmesan. Of course, you might not notice as much whitening action if you wash down your cheese plate with a glass of red wine.
Think of them as nature’s best designer toothbrush. The crunchy texture of apples acts as a gentle abrasive to scrub away the plaque that can leave your teeth looking dull. “The chewing that’s required also promotes the production of saliva, which helps keep plaque from developing. And stains attach to plaque like Velcro,” says periodontist and nutrition expert Sandra Moldovan, MS, DDS CNS.
Just like apples, carrots’ hard, crunchy texture can actually help scrub your teeth clean, say Muldovan and Freeman. You’ll want to stick with raw ones, though. Cooked carrots are too soft to deliver much scrubbing action.
Drink up for stronger bones—and whiter teeth. Milk is another top source of both calcium and phosphorus. Keep in mind that the mineral content goes up as the fat content goes down, so you’ll get the most of both nutrients from skim milk. (A cup of skim milk has 316 mg of calcium and 255 mg of phosphorus, while a cup of whole milk has 276 mg of calcium and 205 mg of phosphorus.)
Breaking down the crisp, fibrous stalks with your chompers helps scrape away stain-causing plaque and boosts the production of saliva. Crunch away, people. And maybe dip into a little peanut butter while you’re at it.
Not only will they not stain your teeth red, but strawberries may also help make your teeth appear brighter and whiter. “They contain an enzyme called malic acid that works as a natural astringent to remove surface discoloration,” says Steven Freeman, DDS, owner of Elite Smiles in St. Augustine, Florida.
For even more whitening action, try applying mashed strawberries to your teeth like a paste for five minutes then rinsing and brushing as normal, he suggests. One study found that this method can help remove plaque to give it a whiter appearance without actually bleaching the teeth.
OK, so it’s not technically a food. But chewing gum helps your mouth produce more saliva. Why pick one sweetened with xylitol? It’ll help you avoid plaque-promoting added sugars, to start. But even more important, the sugar alcohol has been shown to reduce the formation of plaque, which makes it harder for stains to stick to your teeth. Try cinnamon or spearmint flavors—findings suggest they enhance saliva production more than fruity flavors.