When you're at happy hour with co-workers or celebrating the holidays with a glass of your favorite adult beverage, you might not be thinking about how the ritual impacts oral health. However, like anything else you put in your mouth, alcohol can affect your teeth and gums. How, exactly, do spirits impact your oral health, and how can you protect your teeth? Here's a look at the connections between alcohol and oral health:
A couple of glasses of red wine every week won't have a strong negative effect on your oral health, which is good news for the oenophiles among us. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, red wine contains resveratrol, a substance that supports heart health. Of course, what is true of red wine doesn't necessarily apply for all alcohol, but as long as you drink in moderation, your teeth will largely be OK.
However, you should always consider what's inside of your beverage. Many drinks contain high amounts of sugar in order to mask the strong flavor of the alcohol. This is especially true of cocktails and other mixed beverages. As you may know, sugar is one of the worst substances for your teeth. It combines with plaque in your mouth to form an acid that erodes the protective enamel coating of your teeth. Too much sugar, especially when spread out over time, can cause cavities. This process of converting sugar to acid occurs in periods after you consume sweets. Continuously eating (or in this case drinking) sugary items causes the attack to occur over and over.
For this reason, you should pick your poison carefully. Drinks with less sugar are better for your teeth. So instead of that whiskey and cola, try it on the rocks or neat. Or, if you need a sweeter flavor, choose wine over drinks that contain syrups, such as margaritas or Long Island iced tea. In fact, the fermentation process of wine removes most of the sugar from the grapes, despite the beverage's sweet taste. Dessert wines, on the other hand, do contain a lot of sugar.
A note on wine stains
Drinking wine, even in moderation, will still leave you at risk for stains. Red wine may be notorious for giving you temporarily purple teeth, but it turns out that white wine may be more treacherous for your pearly whites. In fact white wine has a higher acidity than red, so it can cause more damage to tooth enamel. To help prevent stains and erosion, drink water between glasses of wine and chew sugarless gum after a night out.
Alcohol becomes dangerous for oral health when consumed in excess. In fact, the Connecticut Department of Public Health asserts that people who abuse alcohol are at high risk for a variety of oral health complications. For instance, one in three alcohol abusers will develop potentially precancerous oral lesions. How does alcohol contribute to these issues? The ways are numerous.
Sugar: As previously mentioned, sugar is one of the biggest contributors in the development of cavities. People who drink heavily are exposed to the sugar in alcohol with greater frequency, and that can deteriorate their teeth. Binge drinking can only exacerbate decay.
Dryness: Dry mouth is a common symptom of alcoholism, as alcohol can cause dehydration. Dry mouth is more dangerous when paired with tobacco usage. When you have dry mouth, your cells are more susceptible to damage, and the negative effects of tobacco are more potent.
Decreased immunity: Drinking alcohol also lowers your immune response, making your body more vulnerable to disease and illness. If you've ever caught a cold after a night of particularly heavy drinking, this is probably why. Frequent binge drinking can have even worse effects than the sniffles. Your body is less able to form antioxidants that fight oral cancer and other more serious diseases.
Vomiting: It's no surprise that having a few too many drinks may cause one to lose his or her lunch - after all, alcohol is effectively a poison, and your body may need to expel it if you over indulge. Regardless of what you've had to eat, vomit at least partly consists of stomach acids that not only erode your esophagus, but your tooth enamel as well. Pair vomit and sugar, and you've got a strong acidic attack against your teeth.
All these oral care issues related to alcohol don't necessarily mean you can't drink. Moderate consumption isn't likely to cause oral cancer or severe decay, so stick to one or two drinks whenever you go out. What's more, by choosing less-sugary beverages and maintaining good oral care (like brushing twice a day and flossing once a day), you'll protect your pearly whites.