When you’re sipping on a glass of red wine while relaxing in front of the TV after work, you’re probably not thinking about the way the alcohol is affecting your mouth. If you drink too much alcohol on a regular basis, you may be severely damaging your mouth.
Let’s take a look at six of the most common ways alcohol affects your teeth and mouth so you can make sure you aren’t causing any permanent damage with your drink of choice.
- Tooth Decay
You may want to lay off of the margaritas, piña coladas and sweet cocktails after reading this. Many delicious alcoholic drinks are packed with sugar. And we’re not the only ones enjoying it. Bacteria love sugar just as much as we do, feeding off of it and producing acid as they munch. Combine these acid-releasing bacteria with acidic alcoholic beverages and your teeth are on a path to decaying.
Solution: While you’re out for the evening, try to avoid sugary cocktails. Choose beer, wine or a coconut water and vodka cocktail instead. If you can’t end the night without your favorite sweet cocktail, use a straw so that the sugars skip past the majority of your teeth. Finally, always make sure to brush your teeth at least 30 minutes after you’ve consumed alcohol. Any sooner and you may further erode your enamel by brushing it.
- Oral Cancer
Alcohol isn’t all fun and games. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF), alcohol abuse is the second largest risk factor for developing oral cancer. Alcohol can cause your gums, cheeks and skin to corrode, leading to mouth and throat cancer. When combined with smoking, a heavy drinker has an especially high risk of developing the disease. The OCF notes that alcohol dehydrates the cell walls, which allows tobacco carcinogens to spread throughout your mouth more easily. Heavy drinking can also lead to nutritional deficiencies that lower your body’s ability to fight off cancer.
Solution: As long as you aren’t a heavy drinker, you shouldn’t run into this problem. Try to keep your drinking to moderate levels, which is defined as one drink a day if you’re a woman, and two drinks a day if you’re a man, according to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- Enamel Erosion
Every time you drink alcohol, you’re usually exposing your teeth to highly acidic liquid. This causes enamel, the protective calcium coating on your skin, to erode. When your enamel wears away enough, you’ll notice your teeth are more sensitive and you’re more susceptible to cavities. Worst of all, enamel can’t naturally grow back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
Solution: Try to avoid carbonated alcoholic drinks, as they are usually more acidic. Drinking water in between alcohol will also help to wash away the acids in your mouth.
- Dry Mouth
Instead of keeping your mouth wet, alcohol actually dries it out. You know how you have to take all those extra trips to the bathroom while you’re drinking? It’s because alcohol is a diuretic. In other words, it dehydrates you by making you urinate more than usual. Less liquid in your body means less saliva in your mouth. Since saliva fights off bacteria, your risk of gum disease and tooth decay increases while you’re drinking. You’ll also probably have pretty bad breath.
Solution: Try to drink at least one glass of water in between your alcoholic drinks. Mints and sugar-free gum can also help to increase your saliva production.
- Gum Disease
A couple of the ways that alcohol can increase your risk of developing gum disease have already been mentioned: bacteria feeding off of sugary drinks, nutritional deficiencies and lack of saliva. Additionally, alcohol has been found to irritate gum tissue and alcohol abusers tend to have poor dental hygiene habits, according to the Drug & Alcohol Rehab Asia. All of this leads to a much higher risk of developing gum disease conditions, which can range from swollen gums to dangerous infections.
Solution: Avoid heavy drinking. If you do drink, make sure to brush practice good oral hygiene at least 30 minutes after drinking by brushing your teeth at least twice a day and correctly flossing.