Red, Red Wine, You Make My Oral Health So Fine

By Timothy Hyland

For years, the medical literature has been building a case that one alcoholic beverage in particular – red wine – may provide substantial health benefits.

According to studies cutting across multiple disciplines, those benefits include everything from improved heart and intestinal health, to lower blood pressure and even reduced risk of stroke or diabetes.

All this, of course, assumes the wine is consumed in moderation.

Now, a Spanish research team believes it has found yet another benefit to tipping back the occasional glass of red wine – better dental health. The team is led by M. Victoria Moreno-Arribas and colleagues from Instituto de Investigación en Ciencias de la Alimentación in Madrid, and the Department of Health and Genomics at the Center for Advanced Research in Public Health in Valencia.

Researcher Moreno-Arribas
Researcher Moreno-Arribas

Writing in a recent edition of the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the Spanish researchers say their investigations prove that a family of chemicals known as polyphenols, which are found in high concentrations in red wine, can help stave off cavities and gum disease by stopping harmful bacteria from “sticking” to the teeth and gums. 

Building off an existing body of work that has shown red wine can bolster the overall health of the so-called gut microbiome – the collection microorganisms that live in and throughout our digestive systems – the Spanish research team in their work set out to discover if those benefits would extend to the oral microbiome as well.

To find the answer, the team specifically compared how well the polyphenols found in red wine performed as anti-bacterial agents, as opposed to similar chemicals found in two common over-the-counter supplements, grape seed extract and red wine extract.

The team found that all of the tested compounds proved valuable to an extent in helping stop bacteria from settling into or adhering to teeth and gums – and, by extension, reducing the development of cavities, gum disease, and other oral health problems. However, they also noted that the two polyphenols found in red wine – specifically, caffeic and p-coumaric acids – actually proved to be more effective than the extracts.

In fact, the team found that while caffeic and p-coumaric acids were able to reduce the stickiness of one particularly problematic bacteria, Streptococcus mutan, by 20 percent and 40 percent, respectively, the supplement versions “did not exert any inhibitory effect” on the same strain.

“In general terms, pure phenolic compounds showed a greater ability to inhibit S. mutans and F. nucleatum adherence than phenolic extracts,” the authors wrote.

The team noted that additional work must be done to more fully understand the positive role polyphenols may play in helping keep teeth, gums and the oral microbiome healthy. But they also said they believed their work was “very useful as an initial approach to go deeper into the mechanisms of action of red wine polyphenols against oral diseases.”


Author: Contributing writer Timothy Hyland has more than 20 years’ experience as a writer, reporter, and editor. His work has also appeared in Fast Company, Roll Call, Philadelphia Business Journal, and the Washington Times.

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