Here’s a problem you may have had: out for dinner, and you just finished off a glass of red wine. You go to smile, and you see their eyes dart down to your teeth, a flicker of disappointment crossing their eyes. Either there’s a bit of spinach stuck in your teeth, or–if you had the slow-roast lamb–your teeth may be stained an off-purple by that wine you just drank.
It’s happened to everyone. No matter what preparations we take or how we try to mitigate the effects, red wine is one of the worst offenders for staining your teeth. Just like the white tablecloth, the carpet, your fingers, or your nicest shirt, your teeth are susceptible to the chemicals that make wine stains particularly visible.
But why does wine stain? And what can we do about it?
What Makes Wine Stain-gerous
Part of the fun of drinking red wine is its vibrant color. This color, in part, is a result of a combination of biological chemicals called ‘chromogens,’ which result from the oxidation of naturally occurring pigments already present in crushed grapes. Fun fact: chromogens are the chemical compounds that are most easily converted to dyes!
When you combine the chromogens in wine with its other stand-out chemical compounds, you’ve got a recipe for nigh-uncleanable stains. Tannins, the chemical compounds that produce the astringent feel and bitterness of wine, combined with the high acidity of the wine itself, combine to create the perfect compound to make your teeth purple. Our teeth, though they may seem smooth, are actually covered in miniscule imperfections, much like a porcelain cup. And when we drink wine, the acid weakens the enamel and widens these imperfections, the tannins bind with the minerals of our teeth, and the chromogens stick to the tannins– a perfect combination for unsightly stains.
What To Do About Wine Stains
So what can we do about our now-stained teeth? Well, for one, a product exists for this exact purpose. So-called ‘Wine Wipes’ are designed to remove the stains that wine leaves behind without changing the taste of any wine you may drink later on. But looking at the ingredients, they’re nothing more complicated than baking soda with a few other simple chemicals. If you don’t feel like spending money on specifically designed products, then think about eating a protein like cheese with your wine, which–when breaking down–will create a chemical barrier for your teeth. Likewise, promoting saliva production in your mouth (say, with gum) will neutralize the pH of the wine you’re consumed, helping to protect your teeth before stains can take hold.
If you’ve noticed that your teeth are already a bit off-color, don’t worry: toothpastes with microabrasive components such as sodium bicarbonate or hydrated silica will help gently remove any organic build-up. You want to be careful: some toothpastes are too abrasive and can damage your enamel. This includes most toothpastes labeled “whitening” or “tartar control.” And make sure to wait 30 minutes after drinking wine to brush your teeth because the acid in wine (and other acidic food and beverages) temporarily weakens your enamel. Brushing immediately after drinking wine can do more harm than good!
These techniques can combat minor wine staining, but if your teeth are already stained, we have a solution: teeth whitening. Teeth whitening can remove surface stains from foods and beverages like wine. More deeply discolored teeth may need a treatment like porcelain veneers.