Dr. Thomas Varga on Wine and Teeth

Interview by Oleg Cherne

Dr. Thomas Varga on Wine and Teeth

In laughter people reveal their teeth and soul
Martti Larni


People have been consuming naturally fermented foods ever since conscious life first emerged on earth. Over the course of millennia our attitude towards these foods (in particular, wine) has changed, from worshipping them, to viewing them as something bad for you, even harmful if abused.

Modern science has confirmed that wine is good for the human cardiovascular system. It normalizes blood pressure and lowers cholesterol. When consumed in moderation, wine lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary disease and heart attack, prevents liver diseases, fights inflammatory processes and strengthens the immune system. Resveratrol, an element found in wine, activates the production of sirtuin, a special protein in our bodies related to longevity that helps protect our organs from age-based changes and diseases. Wine also has noticeable cosmetic benefits, as resveratrol suppresses bacterial growth causing acne. In this instance, drinking wine proves to be much more efficient than using it in skin products.

Research also shows that this component improves short-term memory, helps us remember information, stimulates our abilities to learn new skills and experience emotions, and helps fight depression. A glass of wine can even be better for you than an hour at the gym thanks to phytoalexin, which strengthens all your body’s systems, including bones and muscles, just like exercising.

Logically, habitual wine drinkers wonder how it affects their teeth, both in terms of health and beauty. Some dentists prohibit their patients from drinking red and white wine after undergoing one of today’s popular teeth whitening procedures. They argue that red wine tints the enamel, while white wine ruins it.

In fact, it’s actually quite the opposite: red wine protects our teeth from cavities and plaque, and stops the negative effects of harmful bacteria. Scientists confirm that wine is rich in micronutrients, antioxidants and calcium, all of which are essential for good dental health.

We sat down with esteemed Swiss dentist Dr. Thomas Varga to discuss beauty and harmony, dental care and wine.


— Mr. Varga, the dental market today is overrun with offers and specialists, but for many people a visit to their dentist is still a harrowing experience. However, after our appointment yesterday I’m not experiencing any pain or discomfort. I believe this can all be attributed to your excellent skills.

The first thing that caught my eye is your style. You have your own look both in how you dress, and how you arrange the space around you. Your clinic has everything gathered in one place so you don’t have to go from room to room. Everything from the equipment to the design serves to provide maximum efficiency. I believe you’re a doctor with style. Is your wardrobe a conscious choice?

— I think it’s a combination of different factors, but it’s mostly how my father influenced me as a child. He paid attention to these kinds of things. I picked up on it from him and my mother as well. In our family, we were always neat and tidy in everything. So I can’t say my style was a conscious choice, it’s more of a natural need.


— Would you say you were brought up to live in style?

— Yes, I think that’s a good way of putting it.


— You know, that has such a positive energy to it. Another question I was wondering about: You were working on me for four hours straight. What’s it like doing that? Patients get tired, but it must be even harder for you. How do you manage to work like this?

— Work for me is a source of energy, so I don’t feel tired while I’m working. It may creep up on me later, but not necessarily. For instance, our session yesterday left me very enthusiastic.


— So you like your job?

— Oh yes, I love it! (laughs) When I’m working I like to muse over future procedures for the patient, tune myself to their frequency, think over their details and nuances, and look for the best options and solutions. It’s intellectual work, at its core.


— With me you heard me out and analyzed my concerns after a diagnostic check, then you came up with a treatment plan that didn’t contain anything unnecessary. My issue is that many dentists today push for superfluous procedures, for example, changing or fixing all your teeth at once. You, on the other hand, stick just to what’s necessary. So my question is: where’s the fine line between our perception of beauty and procedures a patient actually needs?

— First, I like talking to the client to better understand their priorities, whether they only care about their appearance or their focus is elsewhere. It’s crucial that this understanding stems from doctor-patient interactions. When a tooth has a lot of old fillings, an implant is both a question of beauty and health, so this one is simple.

It gets more complicated when the issue is pure aesthetic, when you’re working with 100% healthy teeth. For example, if the patient wants to improve their color. I also help patients change the shape of a tooth with a crown, or its position, so it sits more comfortably. In certain cases it’s acceptable to use veneers for basic visual effects, but that’s the limit for me.


— So your stance is to keep things natural and remove anything damaged, right?

— Yes, exactly. Here’s a little story that happened to me recently. A young man in his thirties came to me for help. He wasn’t quite happy with the position of some of his teeth, but all of them were completely healthy. He asked me to put in implants instead of them, 6 on top and 6 below. I told him he could probably find a dentist who would do that, but it sure won’t be me!


— But this is exactly what many dentists do.

— That’s true, unfortunately. I even asked him to send me the name of any doctor who agrees to do it so I can try and change his mind.


— It seems this is also a question of diagnostics. Diagnostics is so important in the grand scheme because it’s a separate branch of medicine, isn’t it? Many people don’t really understand what issues they might have and what the possible solutions are. Plus, getting a comprehensive, objective diagnostic checkup at a dentist’s is no simple task. Dishonest doctors abuse their power and present everything in a more negative light than it is in reality, pushing services on you that you don’t need.

— This is true, and it really upsets me. With the right diagnostics and professional recommendations, you can save a lot of money by simply avoiding unnecessary procedures.


— How much do you charge for a checkup, on average?

— It depends on the complexity and condition of your teeth. In general, it varies from 400 to 1,000 Swiss francs.


— Well, compared to the price of works (such as implants), it’s not that expensive if it helps you avoid procedures you don’t need.

— You know, a Russian girl once came in for an appointment. I made here a crown for a broken tooth that really needed it. She looked at the results, was pleased and asked me, «please do the same with these three, too, and this one on top, and down here too…» I replied that this wasn’t a great idea because those teeth didn’t need it. They were in good condition, under no risk, and were not the source of any discomfort. I’m against killing living, thriving tissue in favor of aesthetic preferences.


— This brings us to the issue of quality work, and especially quality materials. As I understand it, you only advocate for what’s truly necessary, and carefully select the materials you use in your work.

— Certainly. A doctor must stay abreast of all the latest research and innovations. New materials and technologies are constantly cropping up to make our work easier and better. Materials are becoming increasingly safe and more reliable.

For example, in the past many implants, fillings, and crowns were made from metals and alloys known today for their harmful impacts. Gold is probably the only exception: I’ve never personally seen it do any harm (aside, perhaps, for some dubious cosmetic effects). Copper, alloys of mercury and tin, and other relics of the past are all toxic. Improved technologies established the dominance of safer titanium and ceramics, so we must use them.


— Today, titanium is the gold standard for implants, but you and I also discussed other options. Please tell us more about them.

— Indeed, titanium is considered the safest, strongest and most durable of what’s available today, which is why it’s used to create prosthetic devices for any body part. My personal experience also confirms this theory 100%. However, I believe that in the future it will be replaced by zirconium. Scientists have invested a lot of money and effort into improving its characteristics. I believe this is a promising direction, but it does not have enough market presence yet for us to make any decisive conclusions about its durability and health effects. I especially try to avoid zirconium-based alloys, but it’s still obvious this is the technology of the future.


— In your opinion, which countries produce the most reliable materials?

— It’s hard to say, since we require different characteristics for different tasks, and there are also niche products manufactured by small companies. The dental manufacturing market trends towards consolidation and merging. Like in many other industries, large companies buy up small ones together with their projects. But in any event, Japan, the US, Switzerland and Germany provide high quality products. There are also some interesting Italian manufacturers out there. The selection is wide because there is always a high demand.


— You have 30 years of experience in dentistry. Are there any «old-time» methods you believe are better than what’s being used today? Or is progress in dentistry exclusively positive, bringing nothing but improved techniques and final results?

— You could say that being a dentist today is easier than before because technologies allow you to see what you could only suggest before, which increases your confidence in what methods you choose. Today, our tools are also more convenient, help us work faster and relieve a good deal of pressure and tension among patients. The pain factor is reduced to a minimum, and the general level of professionalism has increased. Still, the difference between true experienced experts and just a «good dentist» hasn’t gone anywhere. The devil is in the details. New equipment help us work smarter, but the human factor is still there.


— What can you say about the effect wine has on teeth?

— It largely depends on how you consume it, but according to my observations, white wine is more harmful for teeth due to its high acidity. This is especially true for champagne (with its high sugar content). It promotes erosion and plaque on the surface of teeth and mouth.


— As a rule, young wine has more tinting components than aged.

— The process of how wine tints teeth when you drink it may vary greatly: real teeth are a lot more vulnerable to coloring than implants, especially ceramic. You might notice this when someone drinks wine.


— Yes, I think this is the right moment to mention the French, who say that knowledge of wine is an indicator of a person’s intellect. At the same time, when drinking wine people get more talkative, meaning their teeth are more visible to those around them. If the teeth aren’t in the best condition, people may find it not flattering and aesthetically displeasing. I would say it’s important for a smart person to make sure their teeth are «intellectual» as well, or healthy and aesthetically pleasing. But this tooth «intellect» probably isn’t the same as the famous «Hollywood smile.»

— Interesting concept… Yes, I’d say I agree with you. Having bad teeth or breath can change how others see you. It can also affect your state of mind by not helping your self-confidence. However, everything in moderation! This applies to any sort of corrective procedure, as sizable breast implants can also distort a person’s opinion of a woman’s intellect.


— Can you comment on the different types of toothpaste: is the huge variety available on the market justified? Can you recommend a specific toothpaste as the best for daily use? For instance, for people who drink wine regularly.

— In my opinion, growth in this industry is largely due to marketing. I’d highlight toothpastes with tea-tree oil and other natural antibacterial ingredients that replace more harmful chemical compounds.

By the way, I don’t quite agree with people who say certain components of toothpaste are in fact bad for you. It might be better if you could make do without them, but in the event of poor dental hygiene or other issues, such ingredients actually help minimize problems. The most harmful factors for teeth are soft drinks, soda and even similar drinks that supposedly don’t contain sugar. They promote erosion and worsen the overall state of the mouth cavity and gums. Good eating habits and mouth hygiene are much more important than toothpaste.


— What about toothbrushes?

— The choice of a toothbrush depends on the state of your mouth, gum sensitivity, etc. Medium bristles are suitable in the majority of cases. But still, I want to reiterate that your brushing technique and brushing frequency are far more important. This is one advantage of electric toothbrushes: they might not be better in the strictest sense, but they help you calculate the right duration of brushing needed, which might be hard to do otherwise.


— Thank you so much!

Dr. Thomas Varga on Wine and Teeth. Column: Flavorful Medicine. Interview by Oleg Cherne

In the end, if you enjoy good wine but also care about the whiteness of your teeth and love a good toothy grin, we’ve prepared a few recommendations for you.

First, try drinking white wine after red. The high acidity of white wine weakens tooth enamel and makes it more susceptible to coloring from red wines.

Second, don’t brush your teeth right after a meal with wine. It will do more harm than good, as the acid in your drink makes your enamel more vulnerable. Instead, brush your teeth shortly before the meal. This removes the plaque, or the first thing colored by the pigment in the wine.

Next, the degree of how acid in your drink affects your teeth depends on how much saliva you have and its chemical makeup. If your mouth is producing enough, it will dilute the alcohol and balance out the pH in your mouth. Plus always remember to rinse out your mouth with tap or mineral water. This will refresh your taste buds and wash away tinting agents from your teeth and tongue.

Finally, eat a few pieces of cheese before drinking wine. The calcium in it covers teeth in a thin film, protecting them from decay (even for a little while after the meal is over).

Drink good wine and take care of yourself!