Is Alcohol Truly Bad For Your Teeth?

September 18, 2018

Young couple enjoying  picnic on the beach and drinking alcohol

Fall is in the air already, and as we gear up to celebrate Oktoberfest — and the soon-to-follow holiday season, alcohol will be a part of lots of celebrations for many of us. With that in mind, it’s important to understand the impact alcohol can have on our oral health.

Like most indulgences, alcohol doesn't pose a major health threat in moderation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines moderate alcohol consumption as two drinks per day for men, and one per day for women. But when alcohol is frequently consistently consumed in excess, which is eight drinks per week for women and 15 for men, it will put your oral health at risk.

Alcohol and your teeth

Erodes Enamel

Pure alcohol itself is not very damaging to your teeth. It’s beer, liquor, and mixed drinks that have high sugar and acidity content that breaks down tooth enamel. Enamel is critical to protect your teeth, so damaged enamel can lead to cavities, tooth decay, and increase the risk of periodontal disease. In addition, studies show that individuals who suffer from alcohol dependency tend to have higher plaque levels on their teeth and are three times as likely to suffer from permanent tooth loss.

Stains Tooth Surface

Chromogens in dark alcohols give the liquid it’s color. This includes wines, dark liquors, and mixers like sodas. But they are damaging to teeth. That’s because chromogens attach to the tooth enamel and stain the surface. Enamel that’s been weakened by high acidity or sugar content is more susceptible to stains.

Reduces Saliva Production

Alcohol also causes dehydration, which reduces saliva production and increases your risk for cavities. Saliva acts as a natural cleanser and helps remove plaque and bacteria from the tooth surface. Therefore, when you do drink, be sure to drink plenty of water simultaneously to keep your mouth moist and to activate saliva production to reduce the risk of enamel decay and stains.

Alcohol and Your Oral Health

Prevents Healthy Oral Microbes

"Studies show that individuals who suffer from alcohol dependency tend to have higher plaque levels on their teeth and are three times as likely to suffer from permanent tooth loss."

Beyond tooth damage, excessive alcohol consumption takes a toll on overall oral health. NYU School of Medicine scientists found that individuals who consume one or more alcoholic beverages per day disrupt a healthy combination of oral microbes. When large quantities of alcohol are consumed, the beneficial bacteria is killed off and inflammatory bacteria contents increase, which can lead to gum infection, cancer, or cardiovascular disease.

Damages Gum Tissue

Alcohol is corrosive to delicate soft gum tissue and increases the risk of gum disease. Gum disease causes the gum tissue to erode from the tooth. When teeth are no longer protected or supported by healthy gum tissue, harmful bacteria can attack gums and teeth at the root, leading to decay and long-term tooth loss.

Causes and Worsens Gum Disease

Periodontitis, also known as gum disease, results from oral bacterial growth. Sugars in alcoholic beverages cause these bacteria to multiply and irritate the gums, resulting in bleeding, swelling, and bad breath. Periodontitis leads to gum tissue and tooth loss, and is shown to be associated with several other diseases and health issues, including diabetes and heart disease.

Damage Prevention

Wait 30 Minutes After Drinking to Brush

It’s okay to miss brushing your teeth before bed every now and then, but poor oral hygiene can have long-term impacts on your health. It’s important to wait 20 to 30 minutes after consuming alcohol before brushing your teeth. The acidity in alcohol temporarily softens tooth enamel, so brushing immediately after drinking can brush the enamel away. Brush and floss regularly once the enamel restores.

Schedule Regular Cleanings

Teeth that have recently been cleaned are smoother and have less build up, making it harder for stains and bacteria to settle in. Be sure to schedule regular cleanings with your dentist, and brush and floss regularly to keep your teeth healthy.

Opt for Lighter Liquors

In situations where you know you’ll be having more than one or two drinks, reach for low-sugar, light liquors, such as vodka and hold off on the citrusy drinks or add-ins as these can also weaken enamel. Drink water to prevent stains and keep saliva production active. While excessive alcohol is still harmful to your oral health, reducing sugars and stain-promoting chromogen intake can lessen the damage.

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