The effects of alcohol on your dental health

February 04, 2016

Ever-wonder-what-alcohol-is-really-doing-to-your-teeth_2020_40105329_0_14123633_650.jpgAt this point in your life, you've likely heard every warning imaginable about alcohol, such as the legal consequences of driving under the influence and the bodily harm caused by binge drinking. While these pieces of cautionary advice are extremely important to protecting your life and that of others, there's another vital threat that doesn't get quite as much attention: poor dental health. Learn more about how a nightly glass of wine or a weekend of beer bongs can wreak havoc on your smile.

Sugar
Just about every alcoholic drink contains some form of sugar, from a tall mug of beer to a Dirty Shirley cocktail. While this ingredient adds sweetness, it can have detrimental consequences for your oral health. As Colgate explained, when you consume sugar, it reacts with plaque, a sticky bacterial film on your teeth, to create acid. That acid then attacks the protective layer of your tooth called the enamel. Eventually, the acid wears away the enamel enough to cause painful and costly cavities. The amount of sugar you take in directly correlates with your risk for dental caries, so every bottle of beer you guzzle down plays a role in your dental health.

Couple on date drinking red wine.
Red wine can cause extrinsic teeth stains.

Stains
Your smile is one of the first things people notice about you, so you undoubtedly want to keep those pearly whites clean. Unfortunately, alcoholic beverages work against that effort, especially ones that contain dark colors such as red wine, cranberry vodkas, espresso-flavored martinis, and rum and Cokes. That being said, these stains are extrinsic, so they can be brushed away if you practice proper oral hygiene. You can also receive in-office teeth whitening treatments from your dentist.

Dry mouth
Have you ever woken up after a night of drinking with a sticky, dry mouth? That hangover side effect may have been a consequence of dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes frequent urination. According to the Mayo Clinic, these rapidly recurrent trips to the bathroom can cause dehydration, which can zap the saliva from your mouth in addition to making you feel dizzy and thirsty.

Beyond being just plain uncomfortable, dry mouth can contribute to poor dental health. The American Dental Association stated that saliva defends your mouth against dental decay by neutralizing acids and helping wash away food particles. Alcohol strips your mouth of this natural buffer, leaving you susceptible to cavities.

Woman drinking glass of water.
Remember to drink water to help with dry mouth.

Trauma
Say you have a few too many drinks. You get up from the bar, the room is spinning, your feet are numb and all of a sudden, you're face down in a puddle of spilled beer and cigarette butts. OK, that's an extreme example, but all the same, alcohol impairs your balance and coordination, which can lead to afflictions like dental trauma.

According to a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, alcohol makes you 4.5 times more likely to experience an injury. The research also pointed out that 21 percent of all injuries are alcohol-related. What sort of dental damage might occur? Falling or other forms of impact can cause anything from a chipped to a fully dislodged tooth. In turn, exposed nerves or damaged blood vessels can cause pain and sensitivity and put you at risk for infection. See your dentist right away if you experience a fractured tooth.

"Alcohol makes you 4.5 times more likely to experience an injury."

Here's what you can do
It's no secret that alcohol is a popular beverage among young adults. According to the National Institutes of Health, alcohol consumption is highest among individuals in their mid-twenties, making them most prone to these particular dental dangers. While limiting the amount of alcohol you consume is perhaps the best method to reduce its negative effects, there are other ways to keep your mouth healthy without totally killing your buzz.

  • Preventative care: Visit a dentist every six months to ensure your mouth is in tip-top shape and can withstand the damage caused by alcohol. Need help with affordable dental care? Opt for a dental discount card to receive savings between 20 and 50 percent. Additionally, brush your teeth twice and floss once each day.
  • Drink water: Consider carrying a water bottle with you on your night out on the town, or sip on a glass of this healthful beverage in between alcoholic drinks. Not only will it help prevent a hangover the next day, but it can rinse away food particles and sugar, and fight cavity-causing dry mouth.
  • Go for flat, light-colored drinks: There's no such thing as a healthy alcoholic drink, but if you want to avoid stains, opt for non-carbonated, colorless beverages, such as white wine.
  • Brush your teeth before bed: After an evening of fun with friends, taking care of your smile may be the last thing on your mind. Don't slack on proper oral hygiene! Even if you sipped on water between drinks, brushing and flossing your teeth are the only ways to get rid of the sugar and plaque that cause cavities completely. Consider leaving your toothbrush and toothpaste out on your bathroom sink as a visual reminder to complete this task.

It's perfectly fine to drink and have fun with your friends, but it's important to do so responsibly. Take care of yourself and your smile by limiting how much you drink and keeping your dental health in mind.

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