Alcohol can be a common part of social and cultural life in Australia. However, even having the occasional drink may increase your risk of oral health problems, such as tooth decay, gum disease and dental injuries. These risks can increase further if you smoke too.
While some of alcohol’s health effectshave been widely discussed, its impact on oral health tends to get less attention. On occasion ofDry July in Australia, we’ve highlighted some ways alcohol can damage your teeth and gums – and the ways you can help protect them.
Like soft drinks and fruit juice, many alcoholic drinks are acidic (such as some white wines, ciders and mixers). Acidic drinks can weaken and wear down the hard enamel of your teeth over time, which may lead to formation of cavities and making your teeth more prone to damage.
Other drinks high in carbohydrates (such as beer and sweet liquor)can contribute to tooth decay by feeding the bacteria in plaque. As alcohol affects the production of saliva, which is important for rinsing and disinfecting your mouth,this also can make it easier for bacteria and plaque to spread.
Some studies have found that people with alcohol use disorder tend to have higher levels of plaque on their teeth compared to people who drink less. By drinking within recommended limits, following good oral hygiene, and keeping up with your dental appointments, you can help prevent or manage oral health problems.
Excessive alcohol consumption is also a risk factor for periodontal (gum) disease, one of the leading cause of tooth loss among adults.
As well as causing tooth loss, gum disease has also been linked to other systemic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and problems for pregnant women.
When gum disease is detected in its early stage (gingivitis), it can usually be managed by improving your oral hygiene and using an antibacterial mouthwash. If the disease has already advanced to periodontitis, your dentist may need to perform scaling or root planing treatments to remove theplaque from your teeth and inside your gums.
Alcohol can act as a diuretic, increasing fluid loss in your body through increased urination.
One of the effects of dehydration is reduced saliva flow, which can make your mouth more prone to tooth decay and gum disease. In heavy drinkers, this can eventually leadto the salivary glands swelling and affect properfunctioning. This condition is called xerostomia, or dry mouth.
You can helplower your risk of dry mouth by keeping yourself hydrated. Drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink and consider avoiding drinks with a high alcohol content, such as spirits.
Tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption are some of the risk factors of oral cancer.With both smoking and drinking combined, the risk of getting oral cancer is substantially higher than the individual risk.Giving up smoking and cutting down on alcohol can significantly help reduce your risk of oral cancer.[5, 6]
Oral cancer can affect many parts of the mouth, including the gums, tongue, cheeks and lips. It’s sometimes accompanied by a red or white sore in or around the mouth, butthere aren’t always obvious symptoms. Ask your dentist aboutoral cancer screeningwhen you have your regular check-up.
Drinking too much alcohol doesn’t only increase your risk of certain health conditions. It can also make you more likely to get involved in accidents such as trips and falls, violent confrontations or motor vehicle accidents if you’re driving under the influence of alcohol.
Combined with delayed reaction times, these incidents may lead to teeth and dental work such as fillings and crowns to become chipped, cracked or even knocked out completely. You may also risk damaging your teeth if you chew hard food items such as ice in drinks or open beer bottles with your teeth, both of which should be avoided.
If any of your teeth get damaged or knocked out, contact your dentist straight away for emergency assistance.
Along with tea and coffee, alcoholic drinks such as red wine, dark beers and dark-coloured mixers are among the worst offenders when it comes to staining your teeth enamel.
Broadly, there are two steps to teeth staining. First, acidic drinks such as wine and soft drinks can weaken the teeth and make them more prone to staining. Second, chromogens (pigments) in strong-coloured drinks can attach themselves to weakened teeth and may not be removed by normal brushing.
You can help prevent teeth staining by minimising the consumption of food and drink with strong pigments, rinsing your mouth with water between sips of drinks such as alcohol, or drinking through a straw so that most of the liquid bypasses your teeth. If your teeth are already stained, you can talk to your dentist about teeth whitening treatments.
Do I have to stop drinking?
When you follow good oral hygiene and take appropriate steps to help protect your teeth, responsible drinking is less likely to affect your oral health. However, heavy drinking is not recommended for your teeth or your health in general.
You can still enjoy responsible drinking and practise some of the tips given below:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily
- Drink plenty of water to rinse your mouth and stay hydrated
- Try to choose drinks with a lower alcohol content
- Consider drinking through a straw
- Chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva flow
- Visit your dentist regularly for a check-up.
Speak to a dentist in Melbourne CBD
Is it time for your check-up, or do you need to make an urgent appointment with a dentist? Contact our friendly team at Freedom Dental.
Call us on 1300 437 333 or get in touchonline.
- Australian Health Policy Collaboration and Australian Dental Association. Australia’s Oral Health Tracker Technical Paper [Online] 2018 [Accessed May 2018] Available from: https://www.ada.org.au/Dental-Professionals/Australia-s-Oral-Health-Tracker/Australia-s-Oral-Health-Tracker-Technical-Appendix/ADA_AHPC_Technical-Appendix_07032018
- Jansson L. Association between alcohol consumption and dental health [Online] 2009 [Accessed May 2018] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18341603
- Mine Tezal, Sara G. Grossi, Alex W. Ho and Robert J. Genco. Alcohol consumption and periodontal disease [Online] 2004 [AccessedMay 2018] Available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-051X.2004.00503.x/abstract
- National Health Services UK. The health risks of gum disease [Online] 2015 [Accessed May 2018] Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/health-risks-of-gum-disease/
- The Oral Cancer Foundation. Oral Cancer Facts [Online] 2017 [Accessed May 2018] Available from: https://oralcancerfoundation.org/facts/
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Alcohol and Tobacco. [Online] 2007 Issue 71 [Accessed May 2018] Available from: https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA71/AA71.htm