You’ve probably heard that red wine, in moderation at least, is good for the heart. But when you have a glass of red wine in the evening after dinner, or sip a glass over conversation with friends, you probably aren’t thinking much about the health benefits of the drink. It’s even less likely for you to think about its impact on your oral health! But there has been plenty of controversy in the dental community lately over whether the beverage is good or bad for teeth.
Red Wine Damages Enamel, Stains
Until recently, the research into red wine suggested that while it may be good for your heart, it was bad for your teeth. This is thanks to a highly acidic pH and the staining powers of the strongly pigmented drink. Enamel is the strong outer layer that protects your teeth from all the potentially damaging things that go in and out of your mouth. Damage to your enamel opens your mouth up to cavities.
Unfortunately, acid is one of the most effective weapons against your enamel. (That’s why the bacteria that cause cavities produce acid in order to get through your enamel and attack the inner parts of your teeth.) Weakened enamel makes it much easier for staining agents to get into teeth and cause discoloration. On the pH scale, lower numbers indicate higher acidity. Red wine generally ranges from a pH of 2.5 to 4.5, which makes them more acidic than coffee, but less acidic than white wine.
Red wine is so red because it contains chromogens, which are highly pigmented particles. These particles can make their way through the pores on your enamel (weakened by acids) and make those pearly whites a little less white with every sip.
Are Polyphenols Good for Teeth?
One recent study came with some tooth-related redemption for the drink: While it may pose a staining risk to your teeth, the polyphenols in red wine could actually be protecting your teeth from bacteria.
Here’s how it works: When cavities form, it’s because bad bacteria in your mouth have created a sticky film that helps them adhere to teeth, where they can do their work of damaging your enamel. Without this film, the bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease can’t get purchase on your teeth, and therefore can’t do any damage.
The study, which was conducted on in vitro models, found that the polyphenols in wine actually prevent that film from forming, allowing bacteria to be safely washed away from teeth. While more research needs to be done, this is a good sign for future research into prevention and treatment of various oral diseases.
However, this doesn’t mean you should go out and grab a bottle of red wine for your oral health! Even if the polyphenols in the beverage do help prevent cavities, red wine still causes staining. If you’re not sure what parts of your diet are hurting or helping your teeth, your dentist is a great resource.