The Wine Guy Eddie McDougall: A teething problem
Time and time again, journalists and wine professionals harp on about the health benefits of drinking vitis vinifera wines. The apparent advantages range from anti-ageing, heart-condition improvements to blood-pressure correction, blah, blah, blah, the list goes on. At times, I struggle to see why these commentators don’t also inform wine lovers about the detrimental effects of excess tasting and consumption. Everyone in the biz wants to sell more wines but surely we do not want to harm our fellow oenophiles at the same time.
Being a winemaker and international wine judge, it is not uncommon for me to spend a day tasting up to 300 barrels or 60 different wines at a competition. The tasting, not the drinking, is incredibly fatiguing and gruelling on the mind, the palate and now, more importantly, on my teeth. Teeth? Yes, I am serious. You can probably do greater harm to your teeth from wine consumption than from facing up to Mike Tyson in a boxing ring.
Many of the average punters don’t realise that wine is incredibly acidic. Bottles of all styles carry varying levels of tartaric, malic, citric, lactic, succinic and acetic acids. The most active acids play a significant role in the wine’s style, structure and liveliness. If you cast your mind back to high-school chemistry, acidity is measured on the pH scale. Neutral is pH7, very acidic is pH1 and alkaline is pH14. The pH level of an average wine is anywhere between 2.8 and 4. The direct influence of acidity on the human tooth is related to the loss of the protective enamel. The enamel layer is made up of minerals and mostly calcium, which are easily eroded by common wine acids, causing hypersensitivity and the softening of the tooth’s structure.
I’ve been a victim of such damage. Five months ago, I found myself under local anaesthetic at the dentist, getting my tooth ripped out because of a large crack caused by acid erosion and lack of care. It was an occupational hazard that, for lack of a better phrase, came back and bit me.
From this painful experience, I have assumed responsibility for sharing care practices that will prove useful for oenophiles who want to protect their pearly whites. I advocate five ways to ensure healthier teeth and a better enjoyment of wines. The first tip is to rinse your mouth with a liquid that has a higher pH than your wine. For example, a rich, dark ale, milk or sparkling mineral water. Secondly, do not brush your teeth the night after wine tasting. This might sound counterproductive but it’s important to allow the tooth enamel to rebuild naturally over night. Brushing your teeth after the acids have eaten away the protective layer is like putting a drill to the wound. Tip number three: eat cheese. Seriously. This creamy goodness will do wonders for your teeth. Also, buy remineralising dental mousse and anti-sensitive toothpaste. I can’t live without these products now. Last but not least, it’s quality rather than quantity that counts. Drink well – not lots. If you follow these tips, you can save yourself a few thousand dollars at the dentist and spend it on wine instead.