When industry professionals sample wine or create new cocktail recipes, their focus is on flavor, but alcohol and other cocktail ingredients affect more than just the taste buds. Many in the beverage alcohol industry wonder what kind of toll their work might be taking on their teeth—and how they can prevent things like tooth staining, enamel erosion, cavities, and other problems. SevenFifty Daily spoke with five drinks professionals from around the country about their most pressing oral health concerns and then asked dental experts to weigh in with solutions.
For Daniel Toral, the wine director of the restaurant group 50 Eggs, teeth staining is a major concern, especially because he interacts with guests regularly and wants to look presentable. Ragini Singla, D.M.D., at Floss NYC in Manhattan, explains that the more contact a tooth has with a staining agent, the greater the amount of stain the tooth absorbs. “Your tooth is like your skin,” she says. “It has pores. Wine washing into those pores over time darkens the tooth from the inside out, while the surface accumulates stain.” Minimizing the contact time between teeth and wine—by, for example, drinking through a straw—can help reduce staining, but Dr. Singla says that rinsing with water soon after consuming wine is an easy, on-the-spot solution. In addition, drinking water throughout your workday will not only keep you hydrated but can help protect your mouth and teeth from the buildup of harmful bacteria and plaque. Singla also recommends visiting your dentist for whitening treatments once or twice a year.
Desensitized Taste Buds
Pamela Wiznitzer, the creative director at the bar Seamstress in New York City and the president of the United States Bartenders Guild, constantly tastes new products for her cocktails and wonders whether the exposure to alcohol affects her ability to taste properly. Anne Truong, D.D.S., of Washington Square Dental Group in Manhattan—and Wiznitzer’s dentist—suggests that Wiznitzer is right to be concerned, as the acuity of the taste buds can lessen over time. “Debris can begin to coat the tongue after drinking—and eating,” says Dr. Truong, “which can clog your taste buds and leave a metallic taste in your mouth.” To prevent this, Truong recommends the use of a simple plastic tongue scraper. It’ll help “minimize bacteria and improve the overall environment in your mouth,” she says, citing a study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology that suggests using a tongue scraper can help improve taste sensation.
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Developing cocktails and straw-testing drinks throughout a shift can amount to a substantial sugar intake for someone like Jeremy Johnson, the owner of the bar Meta in Louisville, Kentucky. Although it’s a far cry from eating candy bars, he’s concerned that all the sugar may lead to tooth decay and cavities. According to Truong, Johnson’s fears are not unfounded. “Sugar is food for cavity-causing bacteria,” she says. “These specific types of bacteria break the sugar down into lactic acid, a potent compound that damages the different tooth layers [in a process] known as demineralization, or cavities.” To combat these effects, she recommends using fluoride toothpaste and an anticavity rinse with xylitol, such as Listerine Total Care Zero Anticavity Mouthwash or ACT Anticavity Fluoride Rinse. Look for alcohol-free rinses, Truong says. “If you’re drinking all day long, you certainly don’t need to add more [alcohol].”
As a sales rep for Louis/Dressner Selections in New York City, Maya Pedersen runs to appointments and tastes numerous wines with clients throughout each workday. She worries about the effect of acid on her teeth. “Acid,” says Singla, “over time breaks down the enamel, which is the protective layer of the tooth. I like to think of a tooth like a peanut M&M. You have the candy coating, which is enamel, the dentin, which is soft like chocolate, and the peanut, which is the nerve inside the tooth. The enamel is what protects the softer layer of dentin from wearing away and from sensitivity, so it’s important to protect and maintain as much enamel as possible.” According to a study published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, saliva acts as a buffer against acid and is essential to preventing erosion. Additionally, chewing xylitol gum may lower acid by increasing your mouth’s pH, according to oral health experts; it also stimulates saliva production, which can help wash away enamel-eroding acids.
Kate McIntyre, MW, the marketing manager for Moorooduc Estate in Moorooduc, Australia, first started questioning what wine might be doing to her teeth when she was spending countless hours tasting while studying for her Master of Wine exam. Now, as a judge for wine competitions, such as the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards, the Adelaide Hills Wine Show, the Orange Wine Show, and Vinandino in Argentina, she wants to know what she should do to protect her teeth after long days of tasting flight after flight. Truong points out that many people’s first inclination is to brush their teeth immediately after a day of judging, but she strongly advises waiting 30 minutes after the last taste of wine before brushing. “Imagine your teeth are coated and attacked by acid, causing eroding of enamel and dentin,” she says. “By brushing too soon after, you could actually push the acid deeper into the enamel and the dentin, causing more damage, which may lead to sensitivity.”
Rebecca Hopkins, a San Francisco–based communications strategist for Folio Fine Wine Partners, often spends days taking marathon appointments with suppliers at trade shows such as Vinitaly, or sipping young, high-acid wines for eight hours straight. Over time, she noticed her tooth enamel softening, and her dentist recommended MI Paste, a remineralizing paste, as part of her dental regimen. Singla says remineralizing toothpastes can be beneficial. A study published in the International Journal of Nanomedicine suggests that using the paste can help reverse damage to the enamel by strengthening the teeth and decreasing sensitivity. Singla also recommends getting a fluoride treatment every six months with your regular cleaning. “Think of it,” she says, “like vitamins for your teeth.”
Precancerous Lesions and Oral Cancer
While cosmetic concerns about sipping and spitting as a routine part of work are the types of worries people in the drinks industry most commonly ask about, certain lifestyle factors can raise your risk for more serious oral health conditions. For example, says Truong, “the use of tobacco or drinking alcohol—and especially together—increases the risk of the development of precancerous lesions and oral cancer.” Oral cancer screenings, she says, should be done at your regular dental checkup every six months.
Maintaining a consistent dental care routine may be challenging for people in the industry who work irregular hours, but Truong says the exact timing of your routine isn’t as important as taking the time to be thorough. “It should really be when you have the most time to devote to focusing on your dental care,” she says, adding that ideally, you should be flossing once a day and brushing both morning and night. Not only will the practice of good oral hygiene help prevent tooth staining, acid erosion, and gum problems, but it will contribute to your overall oral health—and keep your smile bright.
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Shana Clarke is a wine, sake, and travel writer, and the author of 150 Vineyards You Need To Visit Before You Die. Her work has appeared in Saveur, Fortune, NPR, Wine Enthusiast, and Hemispheres. She was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer 2020 International Wine Writers’ Awards and ranked one of the “Top 20 U.S. Wine Writers That Wineries Can Work With” by Beverage Trade Network in 2021. She holds a Level 3 Advanced Certificate from Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Sake Sommelier. She will always say yes to a glass of Champagne. Learn more at www.shanaspeakswine.com and follow her @shanaspeakswine.