Acid vs Teeth: Dental Strategies for Massive Wine Tastings

REN: Stimpy, I've been a fool. I should have brushed my teeth, but now my teeth... they are gone! And all I have left are stinky holes.
REN: Stimpy, I’ve been a fool. I should have brushed my teeth, but now my teeth… they are gone! And all I have left are stinky holes.

Almost the end of day one of the magical Grands Jours de Bourgogne, and I’d made it without any dental trauma. Each day’s events are loosely organized by Burgundy regions; Monday is a 9 to 5 orgy of Chablis ingurgitation.  As nothing else in Burgundy should compare in terms of acid (surprise: there’s no Aligoté Day), this was the day that worried me the most — over 100 high-acid wines tasted in one day.

If you’ve ever experienced acid-induced dental sensitivity, the feeling I’m talking about, you’ll know why I was scared.  Dental pain is the weirdest, most vivid pain, somehow.

It was a woeful, cautionary tale witnessing so very many winemakers with seriously mangled teeth. In some instances, you could clearly smell the old ashtray that was their mouth after, say, 30 years of smoking … which, alongside an unlimited wine supply and a healthy dose of professional dental neglect, made for a magical, colorful bouquet. Their enamel had quite obviously failed them, and often their gums were an endangered species. I tried not to shudder when, after amicably chatting a bit, some would smile to reveal a sad animal shelter collection of broken, abused teeth and gums …

I’d actually made it through the entire Chablis day. But then, it was an evening event — a  smaller tasting in the Salle Saint Nicolas in the Hospices de Beaune — that finally did me in.  Some folks were becoming drunk after an entire day of drinking and spitting. Like it or not, you absorb 5% of the alcohol even if you spit the wine. So while unlike a few others, I didn’t get “obnoxious/boisterous waltzing man” drunk, after 3 thankfully acid-driven Chassagne Montrachet, I was feeling that awful nerve sensitivity in all the places where my old style of brushing (normal toothbrush, waaaay too OCD hard back and forth instead of the prescribed gentle up and down) had worn down my enamel and caused channels to form between my gums and teeth.

None of us want fucked up teeth. Some of us are even willing to visit a dentist to ensure it doesn’t happen. But how can we drink the wines we love without endangering our dental health?

As the season of wine portfolio tastings is once again upon us here in New York City, with each distributor vying for attention and showing their wines at the exact same time as their competitors — not unlike some jealous girlfriend trying to quash the others — this is once again on my mind.

Here’s my current daily regimen, that seems to be working fairly well for me:

The regimen.

-Flossing with Oral B Glide floss
-Brushing with Sensodyne ProNamel Gentle Whitening Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth, using Philips SoniCare toothbrush
-Alternate each day between Listerine Total Care Zero (No Alcohol) Mouthwash, and Crest 3D White Glamorous Alcohol Free White Rinse.

The Sensodyne toothpaste explicitly claims to be designed to prevent acid erosion caused by wine. The active ingredient which purports to prevent sensitivity is potassium nitrate. Not unlike Listerine, Sensodyne has a perfectly baffling product line but ultimately you need only seek out that active ingredient and then find a flavor that doesn’t annoy you. After months of using this, I tend to agree; outside of massive tastings or 2013 Mosel Riesling, I rarely feel acid sensitivity.

My dentist explained that given the circular motion of the SoniCare toothbrush bristles, I don’t have to worry about creating channels or damaging gums. Seems to work so far; gum line healing over those channels, less stain, and allegedly the Listerine mouthwash aids enamel repair.

I DESPISE the burn of alcohol-laden mouthwash, just as much as I despise the burn of high alcohol wines. If on top of all of the wine I ingest, I then use an alcoholic mouthwash, the roof of my mouth feels like a thatched-hut roof of torn flesh. I’m a firm believer in no-alcohol mouthwash, and my dentist assures me it’s a sensible choice.

Some say it’s bad to brush directly after drinking a wine, as it strips away your enamel; that you’re supposed to wait a certain period of time. Can anyone comment on this? I’m wondering if I can trust seasoned wine pros more than my dentist on this front. I’m often tempted to brush my teeth after large trade tastings just before leaving — particularly if unfiltered Syrah made an appearance and I look like a purple-spitting zombie that could frighten children.

If for whatever reason fate compels me to brush my teeth just before a meal, I’ll use my old favorite toothpaste, Tom’s of Maine Cinnamon Clove with Fluoride. It’s less “chemical mint” than the Sensodyne, and easier to get back to a neutral palate … somehow more appetizing.

Short of pulling your teeth or never drinking wine again (two wholly unacceptable outcomes) has anyone out there found a way to sidestep acid sensitivity altogether? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Justin Williams says:

    Read your plight. I know it well. A wine upbringing from my late teens on inky shiraz and cabernet meant regular upkeep on my teeth and gum image. My humble solution- Mouthwash in water as often as possible during such tastings and forefinger rub teeth and gums, rinse again, don’t forget the lips, then re-join the action. Repeat as necessary. Close of play repeat, floss, then lightly toothbrush with favoured paste. Rinse in water again.
    Apparently, according to my mother, most teeth issues can be thwarted during gestation by the mother ingesting fluoride in soluble form, thus strengthening teeth and bones.
    Anyhow, I look forward to your posts.
    Justin Williams,
    Canberra, Australia.

    • Gargantua says:

      After writing this post, I brought this up with my dentist again, and he prescribed me a higher fluoride toothpaste that he suggested I use prior to tastings. I’ll be attending a Rhône trade tasting in March (hence Syrah shall abound), so the scenario you describe more or less circumscribes my horror. Your point to mouthwash in water during the tasting is a good one. I just need to summon the wherewithal to detach from the tasting experience and grab a palate cleanse of food with some water, then rush back to the tasting area. So often the tastings are a limited time and I rush, but it’s really not worth it. Thanks for reading!

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