Why Does Wine Only Stain Some People's Teeth?

iStock.com/yula
iStock.com/yula

Maybe getting red wine stains on your teeth would be less embarrassing if it was a universal experience. But as you may have noticed after splitting a bottle of cabernet between friends, wine doesn't have the same tinting effects on everyone. Whether vino leaves your teeth untouched or makes you look like you've been chewing on a purple Sharpie, you can give credit to your genes and hygiene habits.

A mix of components make red wine the perfect drink for staining teeth. It's acidic, which means it degrades your enamel at the microscopic level, making the surface of your teeth less even and more likely to catch pigments. Red wine contains anthocyanins, the pigment that gives wine (and the mouths of some wine-drinkers) a dusky red color, as well as tannins, which encourage those pigments to bind to your teeth. White wine also has acid and tannins (though a much lower level of tannins than reds), but without the dark pigments, drinking white wine alone won't stain your teeth.

Some wine drinkers are better equipped to handle this than others, such as those gifted with healthy, strong enamel. Enamel is the layer of minerals that protects your teeth, and it's the strongest substance in the human body. It's what makes teeth resistant to acidic foods and stains, and how much of it you have is often a product of factors beyond your control, like age and genetics. (Enamel doesn't grow back, so it wears down over a lifetime of use.)

But even if your genes are working against you, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to choose between your favorite drink and a presentable smile. You can prevent wine mouth, or at least make it look less noticeable, by practicing good oral hygiene. Teeth covered in plaque are more likely to stain, and brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing daily helps reduce plaque while keeping your enamel strong.

If you plan on ordering red wine at the bar you're heading to, brush your teeth beforehand: This will get rid of a lot of the plaque that would otherwise act as a magnet for pigments. Because brushing can scratch enamel in the same way that acid does, this should only be done about 30 minutes before you have your first sip of wine, and not in between glasses. Eating while you drink can help as well. By munching on a protein, you can create a sort of stain-blocking barrier for your teeth—just in case you needed an excuse to order a cheese plate with your pinot.

What you choose to drink also factors into how stained your teeth may or may not be by the end of the night. Though wines like chardonnay don't stain your teeth, they do make them more vulnerable to dark pigments, so never start off drinking white wine and move on to red. Dark wines tend to leave the darkest stains. If you absolutely must have a glass of red wine with dinner, opt for a pinot noir over a cabernet (or something lighter-bodied, in wine-speak).

Why Do Students Get Summers Off?

Iam Anupong/iStock via Getty Images
Iam Anupong/iStock via Getty Images

It’s commonly believed that school kids started taking summers off in the 19th century so that they’d have time to work on the farm. Nice as that story is, it isn’t true. Summer vacation has little to do with tilling fields and more to do with sweaty, rich city kids playing hooky—and their sweaty, rich parents.

Before the Civil War, farm kids never had summers off. They went to school during the hottest and coldest months and stayed home during the spring and fall, when crops needed to be planted and harvested. Meanwhile, city kids hit the books all year long—summers included. In 1842, Detroit’s academic year lasted 260 days.

But as cities got denser, they got hotter. Endless lanes of brick and concrete transformed urban blocks into kilns, thanks to what was known as the “urban heat island effect.” That’s when America’s swelling middle and upper class families started hightailing it to the cooler countryside. And that caused a problem. School attendance wasn’t mandatory back then, and classrooms were being left half-empty each summer. Something had to give.

Legislators, in one of those if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em moments, started arguing that kids should get summers off anyway. It helped that, culturally, leisure time was becoming more important. With the dawn of labor unions and the eight-hour workday, working adults were getting more time to themselves than ever before. Advocates for vacation time also argued (incorrectly) that the brain was a muscle, and like any muscle, it could suffer injuries if overused. From there, they argued that students shouldn’t go to school year-round because it could strain their brains. To top it off, air conditioning was decades away, and city schools during summertime were miserable, half-empty ovens.

So by the turn of the century, urban districts had managed to cut about 60 schooldays from the most sweltering part of the year. Rural schools soon adopted the same pattern so they wouldn’t fall behind. Business folks obviously saw an opportunity here. The summer vacation biz soon ballooned into what is now one of the country’s largest billion-dollar industries.

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Where Did the Term Brownie Points Come From?

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

In a Los Angeles Times column published on March 15, 1951, writer Marvin Miles observed a peculiar phrase spreading throughout his circle of friends and the social scene at large. While standing in an elevator, he overheard the man next to him lamenting “lost brownie points.” Later, in a bar, a friend of Miles's who had stayed out too late said he would never “catch up” on his brownie points.

Miles was perplexed. “What esoteric cult was this that immersed men in pixie mathematics?” he wrote. It was, his colleagues explained, a way of keeping “score” with their spouses, of tallying the goodwill they had accrued with the “little woman.”

Over the decades, the phrase brownie points has become synonymous with currying favor, often with authority figures such as teachers or employers. So where exactly did the term come from, and what happens when you “earn” them?

The most pervasive explanation is that the phrase originated with the Brownies, a subsect of the Girl Scouts who were encouraged to perform good deeds in their communities. The Brownies were often too young to be official Girl Scouts and were sometimes the siblings of older members. Originally called Rosebuds in the UK, they were renamed Brownies when the first troops were being organized in 1916. Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who had formed the Boy Scouts and was asked to name this new Girl Scout division, dubbed them Brownies after the magical creatures of Scottish folklore that materialized to selflessly help with household chores.

But the Brownies are not the only potential source. In the 1930s, kids who signed up to deliver magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies' Home Journal from Curtis Publishing were eligible for vouchers labeled greenies and brownies that they could redeem for merchandise. They were not explicitly dubbed brownie points, but it’s not hard to imagine kids applying a points system to the brownies they earned.

The term could also have been the result of wartime rationing in the 1940s, where red and brown ration points could be redeemed for meats.

The phrase didn’t really seem to pick up steam until Miles's column was published. In this context, the married men speaking to Miles believed brownie points could be collected by husbands who remembered birthdays and anniversaries, stopped to pick up the dry cleaning, mailed letters, and didn’t spend long nights in pubs speaking to newspaper columnists. The goal, these husbands explained, was never to get ahead; they merely wanted to be considered somewhat respectable in the eyes of their wives.

Later, possibly as a result of its usage in print, grade school students took the phrase to mean an unnecessary devotion to teachers in order to win them over. At a family and faculty meeting at Leon High in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1956, earning brownie points was said to be a serious problem. Also called apple polishing, it prompted other students in class to shame their peers for being friendly to teachers. As a result, some were “reluctant to be civil” for fear they would be harassed for sucking up.

In the decades since that time, the idiom has become attached to any act where goodwill can be expected in return, particularly if it’s from someone in a position to reward the act with good grades or a promotion. As for Miles: the columnist declared his understanding of brownie points came only after a long night of investigation. Arriving home late, he said, rendered him “pointless.”

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