It has long been demonstrated by dental research that bacteria reacting with sugars in the mouth will result in acids that can attack enamel and lead to its breakdown and the decay of teeth. Our goal in dental health is to maintain a relatively neutral oral environment to lessen this acid activity. I discovered clinically that there were many individuals in the wine industry with abnormal amounts of enamel abrasion. This type of dental problem has not been a demonstrable concern for almost all occasional/social wine drinkers. An esthetic worry over the superficial staining of anterior teeth caused by red wine can easily be eliminated by simple stain removal with dental prophylaxis (cleaning). It is on the individual who, because of his occupation, has wine in his mouth for long periods, that our attention must be focused. These include winemakers, wine buyers, and wine judges, among others. Low pHlevels in the mouth (pH 3-4 is a common range of acidity of fine wines) for prolonged periods can begin to affect the external enamel rods (the structure which creates the protective coating of teeth), especially at the necks of the teeth, where they are shortest. As the surface rods are broken down, any trauma (e.g., toothbrushing) will exacerbate this destruction. Over time this can lead to erosion of the cervical enamel.
Sensitivity of the teeth, especially to cold, will occur as the underlying dentin is neared. Once the erosion has taken place, only restoring the affected teeth will alleviate this condition. This can be do readily using new bonding materials and techniques. The procedure is routine and can be accomplished in one visit of approximately 1/2 - 1 hour, depending on the extent of the restoration.
It is hoped that awareness will lead to prevention. Individuals at high risk should rinse their mouths with water often while tasting. A slightly basic solution (sodium bicarbonate and water) can be used to neutralize the acid of the wine. Ideally fluoride should be included to harden the remaining surface. Toothbrushing should be delayed until well after the tasting has been completed. Commercial fluoride rinses (Act, Phos Flor) are available for use after each brushing as well. It is important for wine professionals to be alert to this problem, and to do as much as possible to minimize it.
Dr. Spasser is a retired dentist now living in Atlanta. He practiced in Manhattan and was Clinical Professsor of Endodontics at New York University College of Dentistry. He is a Fellow of the American College of Dentists.