Could wine polyphenols help protect against gum disease and dental fillings?

By Tim Cutcliffe

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/ silverjohn
© iStock/ silverjohn

Related tags Red wine Dental caries Wine Periodontitis

Compounds found in red wine can help stop harmful bacteria to sticking to teeth and gums, claims research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Two polyphenols, caffeic acid and p-coumaric acid helped reduce adhesion of two types of harmful oral bacteria under laboratory conditions, found the research team from the Research Institute in Food Sciences, Madrid.   

The in vitro​ study found that the pure phenolic compounds were more effective than either red wine or grape seed extracts at inhibiting Porphyromonas gingivalis​ and Streptococcus mutans​, the respective bacteria involved in periodontal gum disease and dental caries.

The effect was strengthened further by using the phenolic compounds in conjunction with the oral probiotic bacteria Streptococcus dentisani.

“This evidence highlight the potential of grape derived polyphenols as natural therapy to prevent caries and periodontal diseases, alone or in combination with traditional treatments,”​advocated study senior author Maria Victoria Moreno-Arribas.

However, experts were more cautious about the findings.

Polyphenols not wine

Those reading this and thinking that preventing tooth decay and gum disease can be simply achieved by drinking red wine, will be disappointed.

“The findings do not support drinking more red wine to stop people getting infections,”​ said Professor Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Glasgow.

Firstly, the concentrations of caffeic acid and p-coumaric acid are simply too low to have any effect, experts explained.

Additionally, in the experimental conditions, the polyphenol compounds and wine extracts were in contact with the pathogenic bacteria for at least 24 hours (for S. mutans) ​or 5 days (for P. gingivalis)​. Thus, contact time for wine in the mouth would be far too short to achieve any anti-adhesive effect on harmful bacteria.

“This is a nice in vitro study using cells in a dish in the lab, but it is not possible to translate these results to what might happen in living people.

“The concentration of polyphenols used appears to be considerably higher than the concentration actually found in wine (5 milligrams/ 100 millilitres (mg/100mL) compared to 0.5 mg/100 mL in wine) and the exposure was much longer than most people would keep wine in their mouths,” ​said Dr. Gunter Kuhnle, Associate Professor in Nutrition and Health, University of Reading.

This opinion was echoed by Catherine Collins, principal dietician at St. George’s Hospital, Tooting.

“Unfortunately there’s no ‘lab bench to lifestyle’ recommendation today from this study.  We might now sip red wine or coffee without guilt, but none of us hold drinks in our mouth for 24 hours at a time to reproduce this particular study method.”

The adverse effects of alcohol in red wine may well outweigh the beneficial effects of the polyphenols, cautioned Professor Sattar.

“There is no good evidence that drinking wine per se is overall good for health – on the contrary, more and more evidence from other sources now suggests the less wine or alcohol one drinks, the lower the risks of range of disease and the lower the mortality risks.

People should not be fooled into thinking wine is good or health giving, however much they would like to hear such a message,”​ he concluded.

Source:  Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Published online, doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.7b05466
Inhibition of Oral Pathogens Adhesion to Human Gingival Fibroblasts by Wine Polyphenols Alone and in Combination with an Oral Probiotic
Authors: Adelaida Esteban-Fernández, M. Victoria Moreno-Arribas  et al

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