©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Coffee, tea, and cola are notorious for leaving stains on your pearly whites.

Pearly whites gone dingy are one of the most common complaints dentists hear from their patients. But what causes stained teeth?

Tobacco -- whether it's smoked or chewed -- is one of the worst offenders. Coffee, tea, and colas are culprits as well. Other possible causes include fruit juices (especially grape), red wine, fruits such as blueberries, soy sauce, and curry. Think of it this way: If a food or beverage can leave permanent stains on clothes or carpets, it can probably taint your teeth.

Aging also contributes to the yellowing of teeth. The enamel, which is the hard outer coating of your teeth, wears thin, allowing the underlying layer of yellowish dentin to show through.

And some stains are what's called intrinsic. That is, they actually occur on the inside of the tooth. For example, children who take the antibiotic tetracycline (or whose mothers took it during pregnancy) often have such stains. Silver-colored fillings can sometimes leach out and stain the surrounding tooth.

Some folks simply go ahead and take matters into their own hands, risking damage to their teeth and gums in the process. Before you can safely take action, however, you have to understand what kind of stains are dulling your teeth. And you need to be realistic, too, in what you seek: Even the healthiest, most perfectly maintained teeth are not pure white.

Only your dentist can correct intrinsic stains, through the use of such cosmetic procedures as composite resin bonding and porcelain laminate veneers (which essentially cover the offending colored area with opaque material). Stains from food and drink can often be removed with a professional dental cleaning. A more expensive and time-consuming option is in-office bleaching.

Once you've had the stains removed, follow the home remedies below to keep them from occurring in the future.

Keep your teeth clean. That means daily brushing. An electric toothbrush may be more effective if you don't do a thorough job manually. But don't get carried away; bearing down too hard when you brush or using a hard-bristled brush can create grooves in the teeth at their roots. You can brush with a light touch and still do a thorough cleaning job.

Floss. Ever notice how stained teeth look worse around the edges? That's because the plaque (a thin, nearly invisible layer of bacteria and food debris) that accumulates between teeth and at the gum line attracts stains like a magnet. Limit plaque with flossing, and you'll fight stains, too.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Be sure to brush and floss every day to get rid of plaque, which attracts stains.

Quit smoking. Much easier said than done, but if you won't stop for your health, will you do it for a more attractive smile?

Be wise about beverages. You know how coffee can stain a porcelain cup. It, along with tea and colas, does the same thing to your teeth. When you do indulge in staining beverages, do so in one or two sittings rather than sipping such drinks throughout the day. And brush after drinking them.

Use a straw. Okay, you may not want to try this with hot coffee, but sipping iced tea, cola, and fruit juices through a plastic straw will reduce your teeth's exposure to these staining beverages.

Use stain-removing toothpastes with caution. So-called smokers' toothpastes, designed to scrub away tobacco, coffee, and other stains on the teeth, are generally abrasive (unlike most of the newer "whitening" products, discussed in the next section) and should be avoided in all but the most serious cases of stained teeth. Even then, dentists usually recommend using these products no more than two or three times a week. You may want to check with your dentist before you try one of these.

Get a "cosmetic cleaning." If your teeth stain easily, call your dentist for a cosmetic cleaning between checkups. The procedure takes about 20 minutes and costs about half the price of a regular cleaning. (It is not, however, meant to take the place of regular checkups.)

Don't get creative. Brushing with baking soda can scratch composite resins and porcelain veneers (which are used to make crowns and other types of tooth restorations). Scratches on these materials pick up stains more readily. Other home treatments that can spoil smiles include dental picks and applications of chlorine bleach.

There are safer home remedies to try to whiten your teeth. In the next section, we will discuss some of the new at-home whiteners that are available.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.