Compounds present in red wine reduce the ability of three species of bacteria responsible for creating plaque, gum lesions and caries, scientists have discovered.
The findings, established experimentally using human gum cells called gingival fibroblasts, raises the possibility that quaffing a daily glass of wine might one day be considered part of a sensible oral health regime.
Research by a Spanish team, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that two polyphenol metabolites common in red wine – known as caffeic and p-courmaric acids – effectively mount a multi-pronged attack against Fusobacterium nucleatum, responsible for gum lesions, Porphyromonas gingivalis, which is linked to periodontitis, and Streptococcus mutans, which catalyses caries disease.
The compounds produce an anti-adhesive response, making it more difficult for the bacteria to become part of the biofilm that coats teeth and gums. They also have an anti-microbial effect, killing the three species, and work as anti-inflammatories, mediating the body’s local immune system response.
The scientists, led by Victoria Moreno-Arribas of the Instituto de Investigacion en Ciencias de la Alimentacion, in Madrid, found that the positive effects of caffeic and p-courmaric acids were evident whether they were applied in isolation, or in combination with other compounds in wine-based extracts.
In a slightly surprising result, the researchers found that the actions of the metabolites were boosted if they were applied in combination with another bacterial species, Streptococcus dentisani, which is thought to function as an oral probiotic.
Previous research has pointed to the benefits of red wine polyphenols in areas such as cardiovascular and neurological health. Several studies have indicated positive associations between consuming about 250 millilitres of wine a day and the management of diabetes and gut health.
A major study published in 2017, for instance, talked up “promising dietary approaches linked to wine polyphenols”.
Until now, however, little attention has been paid to the effects of red wine on the oral cavity, simply because it was assumed that the essential breakdown of polyphenols (and hence the creation of bioavailable molecules called phenols) didn’t begin until the gut.
Moreno-Arribas and her colleagues, however, demonstrate that the compounds begin to break down in the mouth, because of the actions of salivary enzymes, oral microbes, and the mechanical action of teeth and jaws.
The scientists concede that the understanding of these processes is “still preliminary”, but may well be key to uncovering the mechanisms that produce the antimicrobial effects observed.
The team now intend to continue with tissue-based tests to try to better understand the interaction of the polyphenols and tooth-destroying bacteria, as well as investigating the seemingly supportive role of S. dentisani.
After that, they write, they want to scale the whole enterprise up, and shift to human clinical trials. There would seem little doubt that a call for volunteers to drink two glasses of red wine a day in the name of science will be answered.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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