Drinking Dilemma:
What Coffee and Wine Do To Teeth

It's been said that 'you are what you eat', but when it comes to oral hygiene, you are what you drink. And if you drink a lot of coffee and wine, you may be putting your smile at risk.

When most people worry about the 'damage' done to teeth by their favorite beverages - coffee and wine - they generally think in terms of the unsightly stains left behind. Now, staining, in and of itself, does not necessarily pose a true risk to the health of your teeth or your gums. But if you have stained teeth, it probably means that you've been 'playing hooky' when it comes to seeing your dentist and you may have unhealthy plaque on your teeth.

When plaque forms and hardens, it causes a calculus build-up known as tartar. Tartar is more easily discolored by coffee and wine than healthy enamel and that turns your smile from white to yellow or brown. But there's more to the problem than just discoloration. Plaque and tartar irritate the gums, leading to gingivitis and gum disease.

That's just the beginning...

Coffee is an acidic drink. That acidity is just as harmful to the health of your teeth as it is to the lining of your stomach, eating away the surface bit by bit. The more coffee you drink, the more acidic your mouth becomes. When that happens, calcium and phosphate can be pulled directly out of your tooth enamel.

The problem is that people have a tendency to drink coffee all day long, often adding a spoonful of sugar or two of sugar into each cup. And even those who are conscientious about brushing after meals often don't think to grab a toothbrush after those caffeine 'fixes.' The result is a double-whammy: the acid breaks down the structure of the teeth and the sugar promotes decay.

Can dentures be far behind???

Wine can be equally destructive. White wine has been shown to lead to the loss of tooth enamel, a condition which cannot be reversed. According to one study at Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, adult teeth soaked in white wine for a day lost calcium as well as phosphorous up to a depth of 60mm in the enamel surface of the teeth. (Red wine is not known to promote rapid tooth erosion)

Are there any safeguards to help prevent tooth enamel loss without having to give up your favorite vintage? Yes! One tip is to be sure you eat when you drink.

Eating while drinking promotes the production of saliva, this in turn fights against the erosion of tooth enamel. Cheese is an ideal food to pair with white wine, for flavor and dental health. Cheese is a rich in calcium, which can counteract the acidity level of white wines.

And while it may seem counter-intuitive, you should refrain from brushing your teeth immediately after drinking white wine. Brushing too soon after consuming a very acidic beverage may damage the tooth's structure, says Mark Wolff, a professor and chairman of the department of comprehensive care at NYU's College of Dentistry. "Saliva has the capability of re-mineralizing the tooth structure and neutralizing damage, so give it 40 minutes to an hour before you brush your teeth," he says.

The good news is that despite the negative effects they may have, it's not really necessary to cut down on white wine or coffee if you enjoy them. But it is necessary to pay more attention to your dental hygiene.

Coupled with professional cleanings, timely brushing and regular flossing will allow you to eat, drink, and be merry without worrying about tooth or gum disease.


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