Raise a glass if this sounds familiar: You’ve been drinking rosé or Pinot Grigio all summer because they’re seasonally appropriate and you know they won’t stain your teeth like red wine. When it comes to dental health, you are drinking responsibly. Or are you?
Unfortunately, pink and white varieties of wine can still discolor your incisors — just in a different way. It all comes down to acid, says Dr. Matthew Messina, D.D.S., a dentist in Fairview Park, Ohio, and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. Wine — like coffee, tea, carbonated drinks, and citrus fruit — is acidic, and acid dissolves the crystalline outer cover of your teeth known as enamel. “Red is more directly staining,” he says, “but you don’t get a free pass for drinking white wine.”
With lighter-colored vino, the danger is secondary staining. White wine and rosé can soften your enamel, making it easier for anything that passes your lips afterward to leave its mark. (Do note, prosecco lovers, that sparkling wines are even more acidic than their “still” counterparts.) Your body runs defense here thanks to enamel-strengthening saliva, but alcohol can cause your mouth to become dry, and a dry mouth doesn’t neutralize acid as well, he says. The effects are compounded for people who take any of the 600 or so medications that list dry mouth as a side effect.
But Messina says he’s not a killjoy — and neither are we — so we’re not here to tell you to stop drinking wine in the name of a gleaming smile. You definitely shouldn’t start chasing your Brangelina Miraval with toothpaste, either. The best-case scenario is to have wine with a meal (versus sipping it throughout the night), drink water to moisten your mouth and wash away what’s on the surface of your teeth, wait 30 minutes for saliva to do its thing, and then brush. Waiting is key because brushing any sooner could erode your enamel even more.
Again, those are the ideal steps: The bare minimum is to drink water with your wine. These suggestions also apply when you eat anything sugary — bacteria in your mouth burn sugar and the byproduct is, you guessed it, acid. Messina recommends using an ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste since fluoride helps strengthen your teeth, or trying a whitening version if you already have unwanted staining.
And for the morning lemon-water devotees who freaked out at the unflattering mention of citrus: deep breaths. “If you drink it all the way down or drink it with a straw so it passes the teeth, then it has negligible effects,” Messina says. “But if you’re sipping on lemon water all day, that can cause troubles.”
If you’re concerned about the effects of your eating and drinking habits on your teeth, talk to your dentist, who can give you more pointers and address any damage. In the meantime, if you’ve been invited over for Netflix and Chill and you’re bringing a bottle of wine, don’t forget to ask your date for water.