This Is What Red Wine Does to Your Teeth

by Pamela J. Hobart

Wine drinkers everywhere had a collective day of mourning recently when a new study cast the health benefits of red wine compound resveratrol deeply into doubt. But even if red wine doesn't prevent heart disease or cancer, a new excuse for drinking up may be on the table: another study shows that red wine has protective effects for teeth.

Our mouths are complicated environments, with colonies of bacteria living on and around teeth. When you eat sugar and it ferments in your mouth, bacteria go crazy feeding on the byproduct. Unlike your skin, your teeth don't shed cells constantly and so bacteria can cling to them and develop a "biofilm" (i.e., layer of disgusting gunk). When the biofilm builds up without being removed fully (as by brushing and flossing), it can harden into plaque and damage enamel. The end result isn't pretty: gum disease, cavities, and even tooth loss. Up to 90 percent of people over the world are affected by these dental conditions.

Some products for reducing biofilm growth are available, but they can reduce your sense of taste and discolor your gums. Researchers looking for a better solution tried extracting compounds from natural sources, and the phenolic extract from wine and grapes performed best. As reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the wine extract did discourage biofilm growth, as did plain red wine and red wine with the alcohol removed. It's not clear how strong this biofilm-inhibiting effect of red wine is, so don't discontinue the rest of your oral hygiene regime anytime soon. Also, the study wasn't conducted within human mouths, so its applicability may be limited. Regardless, we're always looking for an excuse to drink up.

Also, even if compounds in red wine do indeed discourage gunk from growing in your mouth and causing cavities, the drink is still notorious for staining clothes, lips, and teeth alike. Rinse with water right after drinking, chew sugar-free gum, or try mouth wipes especially for removing wine, but don't brush for about 30 minutes after wine consumption. Anything acidic (including wine, soda, and juices) lingers in your mouth and slightly disrupts the enamel on your teeth, so if you brush too soon you'll be rubbing the acid and stain-causing bits right in.