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Dental care for the wine taster
24 June 2001

One component of the Advanced Wine assessment Course that I attended in Australia in 1999, was caring for your teeth.

Dr Dianne Hunt, from the Department of Dentistry at the University of Adelaide said there is nothing really sorted out yet for preventing red wine stains on the teeth. (But perhaps there have been advances in the new century).

I find my teeth are particularly susceptible to staining - and as I study people's mouths after red wine tasting sessions, I find that mine are usually amongst the worse whereas some people do not seem to have a problem at all.

I never brush my teeth before and after wine tasting, although after a heavy red wine session (usually Aussie reds) I will rub the tannins off almost immediately with a tissue.

Why don't I brush after tasting? Well, I think it is better not to. There was too much pain, especially around the gum area.

Dr Hunt explained it is the erosion from the acids in the wine that thins the outer shell of the tooth's enamel, although not everyone is equally affected. The erosion is an 'insidious cumulative' process and can take up to 10 years to detect. The teeth can become etched (where a part of the tooth is lost forever) or get caries which is where pits and pores occurs on the surface of the tooth.

Prevention is the key and three things will help.

1. Saliva. This forms a glycoprotein layer and buffers acids.
2. Plaque. Although plaque can result in decay and gum disease, it can protect against acids. Plaque is the wine tasters best friend, regardless of what your dentist night say.
3. Chemical additives, such as Fluoride Salts. This will help maturation of the teeth's enamel.

Brushing your teeth removes the plaque, so now I never brush my teeth before heading off to tasting. (And as I said above, I never brush immediately after tasting either).

If you are worried about bad breath from the sardines on toast you had for breakfast, then chew gum - something like 'Extra Sugar Free Gum'. Chewing gun helps to stimulate saliva flow and also may provide calcium and phosphate.

If you are set for a really big tasting session, eg a wine judging where you might taste 150 to 180 wines a day, or even a day at something like the New Zealand Wine Fair, then it is a good idea to do a daily Fluoride treatment with a neutral Fluoride topical gel (eg Colgate brand - about $9.00 for a 30ml bottle) for a couple of weeks prior to the tasting. Here in NZ there is Fluoride in the water as well, but I live in a rural area and we have to rely on rainwater as there is no reticulated water system.

My teeth used to ache so much after heavy wine tasting sessions. I've now had dental work that has repaired the tooth erosion at the gum area, and although the dentist said it wasn't necessary, I insisted. He also does a Fluoride treatment on my 6-monthly visits.

We've talked about capping the teeth, but it is so hideously expensive. I have a couple of friends who have had their teeth capped with white porcelain - due to their teeth being in such a bad state. Now this stuff won't stain, but it is an expensive way to go about it.

© Sue Courtney 2001

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