When you think of things that are bad for your teeth, alcohol is not always something that comes up. Although alcohol's effect on liver health and digestive health are well known, people do not talk about alcohol's impact on oral health nearly as often as they should. Keep reading to learn more about the negative impact alcoholic beverages can have on your teeth and oral tissues.
Smoking tobacco may be the biggest risk factor for oral cancer, but heavy alcohol use is the second-largest risk factor. In Utah, where many people do not drink for religious reasons, incidences of oral cancer are about half that than in surrounding states. If you drink and smoke tobacco, your risk is even higher.
If you are a heavy drinker, consuming 21 or more drinks per week, keep a close eye out for these signs of oral cancer:
- Mouth sores that take more than two weeks to heal
- Pain in one of your ears
- Lingering throat soreness
- White lesions on the lips or cheeks
The good news is that if you quit drinking or significantly reduce your alcohol intake, your risk of oral cancer will decrease. If you think you may have an addiction to alcohol, consider meeting with a therapist or enrolling in a rehabilitation program to help you quit.
Alcohol kills bacteria. Unfortunately, this is not always a good thing. When you drink regularly, the alcohol may reduce the levels of healthy bacteria in your mouth while allowing bad bacteria to increase. These infectious bacteria can take up residence in your gums, leading to gingivitis, a condition that causes red, inflamed, and swollen gums.
If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to a more serious type of gum disease called periodontitis. This condition can cause pockets to form in the gums and may eventually affect the periodontal ligaments that hold your teeth in place, leading to loose and missing teeth.
Gum disease is treatable with treatments like root scaling, gum grafts, and antibiotics, but if you don't also take steps to moderate your drinking, the disease may keep coming back.
The prolific oral bacteria that cause gum disease can also cause cavities. The bacteria produce acids that eat through your tooth enamel, leaving behind soft spots and indents that your dentist will need to fill. Many alcoholic beverages are also high in sugar, which feeds these oral bacteria and allows them to cause even more damage.
If you are an occasional to moderate drinker, reduce your risk of cavities by choosing less-sugary beverages. For example, dry white wine contains less sugar than dessert wine and sugary cocktails. If you are a heavy drinking, this change alone is probably not enough to protect your teeth from cavities — just cut back on alcoholic beverages of all types.
The final way that alcohol consumption can damage your teeth is by staining them. This is primarily an issue in patients who prefer dark-colored beverages, such as dark beers and red wine.
You might assume that brushing your teeth right after drinking such a beverage would prevent stains, but this actually makes matters worse. Right after you drink alcoholic beverages, which tend to be acidic, your enamel is extra soft. By brushing your teeth at this point, you can cause enamel damage, which can make sensitivity and staining more likely.
The best way to prevent staining is to moderate your drinking, and if you do drink, choose lighter-colored beverages like white wine and light beers.
The moral of the story is that drinking alcohol is not great for your teeth or gums, and the less you drink, the better off you'll be. If you are or have been a heavy drinker, make sure to schedule a checkup with your dentist. Problems like cavities, gum disease, and oral cancer are easier to treat in the early stages. Contact Universal Dental Center if you're in need of a new dentist.