Most of us indulge in occasional or moderate alcohol consumption, which is part of our lifestyles and a habit which does not affect us too adversely. On the other hand, high alcohol consumption does cause both short and long-term health problems. We know that alcohol can affect the liver, brain and blood sugar but what many of us do not realise is alcohol’s oral health influence is strong and can cause real damage if you do not take care.
How does this happen?
White wine, beer and cider are alcoholic beverages which can be very acidic, which in turn causes the enamel of your teeth to erode. Not only does this lead to pain and sensitivity, but your teeth are also usually affected by the acidic food or drink for about up to an hour during which time your enamel is weakened.
Also, spirits such as whiskey and vodka have a high alcohol percentage and will give you dry mouth while the mixers used have a high sugar content which contributes towards dental decay.
Does drinking alcohol affect your oral health?
Having a drink or two a week is not going to affect your oral health too badly but having multiple drinks a day can cause long-term dental issues such as tooth decay, tooth erosion and even lead to oral cancer. As well as being acidic alcohol also dries out the mouth, reducing the flow of saliva which increases the risk of dental decay and gum disease. Dry mouth causes bacteria to cling to the tooth enamel which affects your teeth and gums.
What are the factors which affect the effects?
While alcohol and oral health issues are linked it only becomes very serious if you are drinking alcohol daily and beyond the recommended limit. The effect of alcoholism on oral health is serious for the reasons listed above. When you drink frequently you have a higher risk of developing oral complications that are further intensified as you continue consuming alcohol because studies have found that it can influence your mouth’s microbiome. When this happens it can impact your gums which can cause gingivitis.
Effects of alcohol on your oral health
Alcohol and oral health are connected because alcohol dehydrates the body causing your kidneys to expel more water than it normally would. This causes dehydration throughout your body and just one of the effects of this is the weakening of the salivary glands decreasing the flow of saliva.
Increase the risk of oral cancer – According to studies over 75% of people dealing with oral cancer are drinkers. Research shows that those who consume alcohol are six times more likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer, than those who don’t. Those who drink and smoke are increasing their risk factor even further.
Damage to your teeth – When you add mixers to your alcohol, which often tend to be very sweet and fizzy, it can cause damage to your teeth as the stickiness causes plaque to build up and bacteria to breed. This is again as a result of reduced saliva – saliva which plays an important role in washing away invading microorganisms and in keeping good and bad bacteria in check. When you mix your alcohol with high-sugar content beverages you are setting for both an increase in plaque build-up and enamel erosion which can lead to cavities.
Dry mouth – Studies indicate that substantial amounts of alcohol affects our saliva flow rate. Many heavy drinkers suffer with dry mouth which is the effect of reduced saliva. This is why after a heavy session of drinking many experience a state of dehydration or a dry throat.
Bad breath – Alcohol and bad breath unfortunately go hand in hand as well, again owing to the fact that alcohol creates dry mouth. The alcohol we consume is converted to acetic acid which causes bad breath. The more often you drink the longer the halitosis sticks around.
Staining of teeth – When you have alcoholic beverages such as red wine or sangria they can stain your teeth due to their deep hues. This can be countered by drinking water or munching on food while drinking to stimulate saliva.
Injuries – One of the most basic risks alcohol causes is its effect on your motor skills. When intoxicated you are more prone to accidents and stumbling as your coordination is affected. Unfortunately many tend to fall on their faces or cause damage to their teeth, gums, lips and jaws during a fall.
Deterioration of your overall health
Something many people do not realise is that our oral health has a significant impact on our overall health and well-being. According to the WHO oral diseases and conditions share a risk factor with leading noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. Studies have shown the close relationship between dental health and overall health which is why it is so important to maintain good oral health to reduce the risk of causing further health complications.
How to minimize the effects of alcohol on oral health
As we can see alcohol has a very strong impact on our oral health which in turn has a direct impact on our health altogether. There are measures we can take to reduce the impact; the main one being of course reducing the amount and frequency we consume alcohol. Try and limit the times you consume alcohol during a week and when you do indulge try to keep within a reasonable limit.
When you do decide to have a drink, stick to those that have a lower sugar content which will to an extent reduce the adverse effects that sugary drinks have on your teeth. Gin and tonic and light beer have lower acidity levels and can be considered as alternatives to higher sugar content drinks. Stick to light-coloured drinks and even then try to consume it through a straw so that you minimise contact with your teeth.
One of the simplest measures you can adopt is to drink lots of water. Sip water between drinks to keep you hydrated and to reduce the risk of dry mouth and a decrease in saliva production. You could also consider chewing sugar-free gum to boost your saliva production.
If you want to seek help towards overcoming alcohol dependency there are many UK resources that you can browse online to start you on your journey. Remember, it is not a path you have to take alone as there are many organisations and people willing to help you regain control of your life.
Alcohol has a massive impact on our oral health. If you do consume alcohol quite regularly then it is important that you practice good oral hygiene habits, go for regular dental check-ups and seek dental treatment for any dental ailments that may come up to help prevent them developing into anything more serious. Maintaining oral health is not difficult and takes just a little effort to keep your teeth and gums healthy. As it benefits your health overall it is well worth the effort to take that extra care. Also, remember your smile is one of your greatest assets, you owe it to yourself to look after it.