To the delight of those who like to indulge in a cheeky glass of red after dinner, the health benefits of wine (in moderation, of course) are becoming increasingly well-documented. There's evidence that compounds in wine could help improve heart health and even reduce the cancer-causing effects of alcohol, and now a surprising new benefit may have been discovered. Wine may help fend off bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease.

Most of the supposed health benefits of red wine are thought to come from compounds known as polyphenols. Since these compounds are used naturally by fruits and plants to fight off attacking bacteria, it follows that consuming them could improve our own health. The most famous polyphenol, known as resveratrol, has been associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer's and obesity, and may even help fight aging. However, all of this is still up for debate.

While the antioxidant properties of these compounds is normally measured in the gut, for this study, the researchers wanted to examine whether those benefits started before they got there. Namely, they set out to study what effect, if any, wine would have on the oral bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease.

The team focused on two specific polyphenols found in red wine, caffeic acid and p-coumaric acid. Sure enough, the compounds did make it harder for the bacteria to stick to the cells of model gum tissue, although interestingly, they were better at it on their own than when mixed with the rest of the wine extracts. That implies that polyphenols are probably a better base to make new oral hygiene supplements or products, rather than gargling a glass of red before bed.

Lending further weight to that idea, these polyphenols performed even better when combined with Streptococcus dentisani, a bug that's thought to be an oral probiotic. As for how the polyphenols help, the researchers found that some of the benefits may be the result of metabolites that form as the polyphenols begin to be digested in the mouth.

The research was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.