'Tis the season for eggnog, mistletoe, gift-giving and late-evening red wine, but only one of these causes a cosmetic problem. The last thing you want is a magenta smile at a holiday party or similar gathering, but a single glass of cabernet or merlot is likely to have that effect. How do you enjoy your favorite reds this season without the self-consciousness associated with red wine teeth stains? Here's the scoop on dental discoloration so you can take the right steps to maintain your pearly whites.
Why Red Wine Stains
Strong pigments in red wine are instant stain-makers for porous surfaces like your teeth. These pigments, called chromogens, give it that deep, intense hue, and leave their mark on your teeth after just a few sips. The nature of enamel plays a big part in this process.
"Enamel isn't perfectly smooth," says Benjamin Rudow, D.D.S. "It has small cracks and irregularities, and pigmentation from red wine will settle in them."
The acid and tannins contained within red wine, however, are the main contributors to staining. Wine is an acidic beverage – much like coffee, tea and soda – so it promotes enamel erosion that makes it easier for chromogens to soak into your smile. Tannins, the astringent compounds that create the dry-mouth texture of wine, also bind to the teeth, encouraging pigment to latch on.
This doesn't mean you have to avoid red wine during the holiday season. Red wine has long been touted for its health benefits, some of which include reduced risk of gum disease and tooth decay. It also may lower your susceptibility to heart disease and offer protection against Alzheimer's, according to Medical Daily. So before you switch to white, keep in mind there's a lot you can do to lessen staining in the short term and ensure a white smile for life.
Brush and Floss before Pouring a Glass - Stains cling to the film of plaque on your teeth, so a thorough brushing and flossing before heading into your holiday event calendar is a good personal rule to uphold. By properly removing new plaque and food residue from your teeth before an indulgent meal (the back of your teeth are key), you can minimize your chances of staining. Cleaning your teeth on this type of schedule also cuts down on your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Rinse Your Mouth Out Afterward - To help prevent red wine from lingering on your teeth, take a swig of water, which is generally a good habit while consuming any type of alcohol to keep you hydrated. You may think it makes sense to brush the wine off your teeth, as well, but enamel is actually more sensitive right after a meal. You should wait at least 30 minutes before brushing to prevent this damage and let your enamel recalcify.
Eat as you Drink - Consider noshing on cheese and crackers or another hors d'oeuvre as you drink; this food can act as a barrier to the acid in red wine. Go with particularly fibrous foods that are low in sugar, such as broccoli, celery or hard cheeses – all of which can stimulate saliva flow and naturally scrub away drink stains.
Use a Whitening Toothpaste - Whitening toothpastes such as Colgate Total® Advanced Whitening work to remove surface stains on your teeth that naturally occur over time, and prevent new red wine teeth stains from forming. It's a good idea to use one if you're concerned about keeping your smile bright this time of year. Rudow suggests that when the teeth are thoroughly clean, they have a better chance of picking up whitening agents effectively – so be sure not to skip your regular dental cleanings.
If you want a more extensive whitening effect, of course, you may want to consider an at-home or professional treatment. Talk to your dentist before you use any non-paste whitening product, especially if you have a history of sensitive teeth or gums.
As with most dental concerns, keeping your commitment to regular dental cleanings and exams can go a long way in preventing a permanent stain from an acidic drink or food you'll want to enjoy on occasion. Do so with these tips in mind, and you won't have to cut back on your favorite reds at such a wonderful time of the year.