Wine softens tooth enamel: True/False?

Wine-softened enamel would be ripe for erosion by chewing or brushing. Sounds like another of those urban legends designed to add a tinge of guilt to any Bacchanalian revelry — is it for real? Well, yes...and no.

Yes it is true that wine erodes enamel. Erosion is a complicated process when you get down to it, with the tooth structure, chemical environment and mechanical wear all playing a part. As usual, with teeth, it’s the acid in wine that seems to be the chief chemical culprit. This demineralises the outer layer of enamel leaving it susceptible to being rubbed away by another tooth or even the bristles of a toothbrush. And once its gone it isn’t coming back. Wine tasters (as well as wine makers) who find themselves swilling the stuff all day do have to take precautions, from not brushing afterwards through special remineralising compounds to having their teeth coated with resin to keep the acid out.

But if you actually drink wine, rather than tasting it all day, there is probably nothing to worry about. Short of alcoholism (at which point you’ve got bigger problems than tooth decay) it seems that drinking wine is pretty harmless to teeth. Laboratory tests show that exposure for up to 90 seconds to wine doesn’t soften tooth enamel. And it is thought that in your mouth there is even more leeway because saliva helps buffer the acid blow.

What you really need to watch out for are those soft drinks. Even though many of these drinks are less acidic than wine, not all acids are created equal and other ingredients in both wine and soft drinks affect the action of the acids they contain. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that orange juice is bad for teeth, but even apple juice is more corrosive than red wine.

Yes, if you’re swilling it round in your mouth all day, wine — and many other drinks — will soften tooth enamel. But a few glasses, while they may soften your brain a bit, will leave your teeth intact.

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