Laura, the extremely chatty hygienist, hadn’t been poking around in my mouth for more than a minute or two when she suddenly went quiet and furrowed her brow. “What do you do?” she finally asked, in a way that made it clear she wasn’t just making small talk. “Eye-ay-er,” I answered, which was the best I could manage with a gloved hand and sharp pick in my mouth. She didn’t know what I was saying.
“I look at a lot of teeth,” she said, “but I’ve never seen ones like yours.”
“Uh ake ine.”
“What? Wait a minute while I finish.”
As she continued on her hygienic way, she elaborated. “I can look in peoples’ mouths and tell a lot about their lifestyle. I can tell if they’re heavy coffee drinkers. I can tell if they’re heavy tea drinkers. Pipe smokers have distinctive teeth. So do cigar smokers, pot smokers, tobacco chewers, tooth grinders, bulimics…”
“The backs of their teeth are always badly eroded from contact with stomach acid. Anyway, you are none of the above. So what is it you do?”
“I put small quantities of wine in my mouth all day, hold them there, and then spit them out.”
There was a long pause.
Laura told me that in addition to being badly stained, my teeth showed a distinct pattern of enamel erosion, especially at the gum line, which meant that major and costly repair work was in my near future.
“I don’t believe it…that’s what my horoscope said too!” I said, mouth agape.
She glanced down at my chart. “You Capricorns. Always with your superstitions!”
Laura asked me if there were any way I could use a machine to analyze the wines I was making, so as to give my pearly whites (actually they were spongy grays) a rest. I explained that while we do perform a number of lab analyses on our wines – pH, titratable acidity, residual sugar, alcohol content and the like – no apparatus existed that could tell if a wine smelled and tasted good. Hence the need to constantly put wine samples in our mouth, ponder them awhile, and then expectorate. (I didn’t tell Laura that my lab sink and drain bore the worst brunt of all, and needed the attention of a plumber every few years.)
Some time later I took a one-month sabbatical to teach at the University of Adelaide in Australia. One morning my horoscope told me that something momentous was going to happen that day, and sure enough, I happened upon an article in a trade journal titled “Winemakers, Look After Those Teeth!” The author was a dentist based in Canberra who had evidently had enough of whiny winemakers complaining that their choppers weren’t performing up to speed. He recommended using a recently developed product called Recaldent Tooth Mousse, which has the capacity to remineralize teeth and make them more resistant to acid attack.
The stuff is expensive and has to be shipped from Australia, but it really does work. I’ve told all my bulimic friends, who number in the thousands, about this product, as well as any winemaker who happens to complain of problems with tooth erosion.
And this morning I went in for my semiannual dental exam. Laura, the forensic dentistry expert, is long gone, but the staff there know that I am what’s called a Special Needs patient, and they indulge me accordingly. “Good for you!” they coo. “The staining is not that bad today! Good for you!”
By: Peter Bell, Winemaker
Music of the Day:
- Dan Rooke; "Avenues of Forgiveness:"