It’s no secret that wine can stain your teeth, but did you know that drinking alcohol can have other damaging effects to your oral health? Whether it is a daily nightcap, an occasional drink, or even some common “health” products you’d never suspect as harmful, alcohol intake can be the root cause of many costly mouth problems. Find out how this pervasive substance can wreak serious dental havoc, and what you can do about it.
Oral Effects of Alcohol
Because alcohol can cause dehydration, regular production and flow of saliva may be disrupted and result in Xerostomia, or “dry mouth”. Telltale symptoms include bad breath, a parched feeling in your mouth, and a shiny, bright red appearance to the tongue. Without sufficient saliva, oral bacteria and plaque are left to flourish, eventually causing gum disease and tooth decay if left untreated. Tooth and gum problems may be exacerbated if your alcoholic beverage of choice is particularly sugary, and/or if your drinking habits lead to increased snacking and poor nighttime hygiene.
Worst of all, excessive consumption of alcohol has been linked with oral cancer. Studies have shown that when the body processes alcohol, it can bind to key proteins in the mouth and result in the formation of cancerous cells. Patches that emerge on the lips, gums or inner lining of the mouth are telltale signs of cancer, but many other symptoms may be hard to detect without a professional dental exam.
Sources of Alcohol
From hard liquor to wine spritzers and beyond, when consumed too frequently, any beverage containing alcohol can compromise your oral health. In fact, those who opt for drinks that are labeled “non-alcoholic” may still suffer negative dental effects because many of these beverages still contain trace amounts of alcohol.
In addition, you may be surprised to hear that alcohol is a key ingredient in common over-the-counter products used for “health” care purposes, such as:
Certain mouthwashes – especially those of the “cosmetic” variety designed to mask bad breath rather than treat it – use alcohol both as means to add certain flavors, and as a temporary anti-bacterial agent. In the long run, however, its relatively high alcohol content can dehydrate the mouth.
Cold and/or Cough Syrup
Typically sweetened for improved taste, this can be doubly damaging to your oral health, as the syrup coats the teeth with sugar while the alcohol prevents saliva from helping to protect the tooth’s surface. Similar to cough and cold syrups, many throat lozenges used to treat respiratory ailments also contain alcohol.
Other Non-Prescription Drugs
Most chloraseptic sprays, allergy medicines, and other over-the-counter products used for fever, flu or as a sleeping aid also include various forms of alcohol. As with cold and cough medications, the amount of alcohol may be much smaller, but there can still be detrimental effects to your mouth without proper hygiene.
Even everyday meals may be laced with alcohol if the recipe calls for certain cooking extracts, wine, or a sweet liqueur like rum, for instance. Simply asking your server about the ingredients, however, and reading all product labels carefully before use are easy ways to monitor and control your exposure to alcohol.
Proactive Ways to Protect Your Smile
In order to protect your oral health, managing the amount of alcohol you consume is only one half of the equation. Unless there is a larger problem at hand, such as alcohol abuse, completely avoiding alcoholic drinks and alcohol-based products may be unrealistic. Instead, improved hygiene and overall preventative care may be the more effective solution. If you suspect alcohol consumption is causing you dry mouth or other oral problems, seek non-alcohol based alternatives for any medications you may be taking from your dentist (or doctor), try drinking a glass of water between alcoholic beverages to decrease dehydration and dry mouth. If you continue to experience symptoms, consider increased checkups and cleanings to detect and address any issues as soon as possible.
Alcohol Consumption. (2015). Retrieved July 16, 2015, from http://www.dentalhealth.ie/dentalhealth/causes/alcoholconsumpt.html
How Alcohol Affects Your Teeth. (2013, April 17). Retrieved July 22, 2015 from, http://healthysmilesofga.com/how-alcohol-affects-your-teeth/
Medications Containing Alcohol. (2013). Retrieved July 11, 2015, from http://www.sdsuduip.com/medications-containing-alcohol/
Treatment for Dry Mouth. (2013, March 23). Retrieved July 11, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/dry-mouth-treatments