Red Wine Could Yield a Better Toothpaste

Don’t open wine like this. As my dentist says, “Your teeth are jewels, not tools.” (Credit: Shutterstock)

Red wine colors your tongue, but your teeth may not mind a little juice of the vine.

Sipping moderate—keyword, moderate—amounts of wine on a regular basis can be good for your colon, heart, immune system and mental health. Wine, after all, was at the core of the so-called “French paradox,” or the observation in 1980 that cardiovascular disease was far less prevalent among the French, despite their penchant for saturated fats, low activity levels and cigarettes. The outlier: The French also consumed more wine per capita than other nations.

It was a simple, elegant excuse to wash your indulgences down with a glass of vino. Of course, correlation isn’t always causation, and the French paradox failed to incorporate a host of other variables that contributed to good health in France. Although the paradox has faded with time, scrutinizing it led to a lot of solid research into the secrets of wine.

Scientists now know that wine is an elixir of polyphenols, which are metabolites with antioxidant qualities found in grape skins and other plant fibers. In wine, there are several hundred varieties, which all affect a wine’s flavor, taste and mouthfeel. The beneficial action from polyphenols is thought to occur as they interact with bacteria in the gut, producing useful byproducts. But that metabolic action begins as soon as wine hits your lips, where oral bacteria and enzymes in your mouth work at the beginning of the value chain. However, there hasn’t been much research into how bacteria and wine polyphenols dance together in the mouth.

The oral microbiome contains more than 700 species of bacteria, all milling about eating and pooping inside your mouth. Most bacterial species gather in dental plaque, and while many of those bacterial squatters are beneficial to oral health, others can cause gingivitis, cavities and other periodontal diseases.

Researchers focused their work on two red wine polyphenols—caffeic and p-coumaric acids—to see how they interacted with bacteria that stick to teeth. A key step in an infection is microbial adhesion to connective tissue cells in the mouth. Using cells that modeled gum tissues, they found that caffeic and p-coumaric acids reduced the ability of Streptococcus mutans, the culprit behind cavities, and Porphyromonas gingivalis, responsible for inflammation, to adhere to cells.

When researchers combined the pair of polyphenols with Streptococcus dentisani, an oral probiotic, they were even better at debilitating harmful bacteria. M. Victoria Moreno-Arribas and colleagues published their study Wednesday in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

By no means does this mean you should swap your toothpaste with Merlot. Rather, this study simply isolated two chemicals that could be interesting candidates for future oral health research. Perhaps there are more useful polyphenols in wine that could be spun into products to manage periodontal disease? Could you make a better toothpaste?

“Our study, based on an in vitro model of bacterial adherence results, is very useful as an initial approach to go deeper into the mechanisms of action of red wine polyphenols against oral diseases,” the researchers wrote in their study.

We’ll toast to that.