Beating Bacteria with Red Wine

For the vast majority of human existence we’ve been at the mercy of bacteria. Since the beginning of time, bacterial plagues have ravaged human civilization. There was little we could do in the past when virulent diseases would pounce on society without warning. But then in 1928 Dr. Alexander Fleming, while conducting an experiment in his lab, discovered fungus had killed the bacteria in the petri dishes he’d left out. With this discovery the road to antibiotics was laid down. Along with vaccination, the discovery of antibiotics has led to the elimination of epidemics that once seemed indomitable. Diseases like smallpox and bubonic plague, which used to kill off people by the hundreds of thousands, have been all but eradicated.

The Rise of Bacterial Resistance

A new problem has emerged in recent years. Due to wonderful capabilities of antibiotics, they’ve been widely prescribed. Their overuse, however, has caused bacterial strains to adapt, and become resistant. Fortunately, the bacteria that causes the bubonic plague has not become resistant. It is instead bacteria we encounter more frequently that have developed the ability to counter antibiotics. Unfortunately, a major center of increasingly antibiotic resistant bacteria is the mouth.

Streptococci or lactobacilli are the major cavity-causing culprits. They’re able to produce organic acids in high levels following the fermentation of dietary sugars. The acid they create then demineralizes the enamel on your teeth. That’s a fancy way of saying it corrodes, or burns through, layers of your teeth due to its acidity. Antimicrobial agents can be prescribed to control plaque and reduce oral biofilms (where the bacteria reside). Antimicrobials often come with side effects including reduced taste perception and discoloration of the gums. Also, it is probable that the use of these antimicrobials is contributing to drug resistance in the bacteria.

Red Wine: an Antimicrobial?

In order to conquer bacteria antibiotic resistance, scientists have been attempting to think outside the box. They have been increasingly turning to natural products for answers to this biological stalemate. In this search for solutions, researchers noted that polyphenols from tea and cranberries, and phenolic extracts from wine and grapes, have recently been implicated in inhibiting the growth of strains of Streptococcus. This begged the question: is red wine good for teeth?

So the researchers set to work. Biofilm cultures consisting of five species of bacteria associated with oral disease were placed variously in red wine, alcohol-free red wine, red wine with grape seed extract, water and 12% ethanol for a couple of minutes each. The results found that red wine—both alcoholic and non-alcoholic—were quite effective at fighting bacteria. Indeed, the red wine mixed with grape seed extract worked even better than red wine alone.

Now this doesn’t mean you should begin guzzling down bottles of wine in the name of cavity prevention. It must be noted that the study used moderate concentrations of red wine to achieve this antimicrobial effect. The grape seed extract’s antimicrobial properties could lead to the development of a whole range of more natural remedies to fight bacteria rather than taking now overly prescribed antibiotics.

dentist-atlanta-meet-the-drDr. Hugh Flax has a passion for practicing dentistry. He takes great pleasure in changing patients’ lives through their smiles. He received his degree in dentistry at Emory University and began Flax Dental in 1987. Outside the office, Dr. Flax loves music, New Orleans, traveling and more music. Follow Great Smile Dental on Twitter and Facebook.

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Posted in: Dentistry

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