It’s fairly common knowledge that alcohol has an effect on your liver, but did you know that drinking affects your teeth, too? From increasing your risk for oral cancer and gum disease to eroding your enamel, drinking can affect your teeth in a number of detrimental ways. While the occasional drink isn’t going cause your teeth to fall out, excessive drinking certainly has that potential. Oral health is just one more reason to consume alcohol in moderation.
The most significant way in which drinking affects your teeth is by greatly increasing your risk for oral cancer. While oral cancer most often appears on the lips or the tongue, it can also occur on both the floor and the roof of the mouth or on the gums, resulting in tooth loss. This risk is significantly impacted when alcohol consumption is combined with tobacco use. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, the synergy between alcohol and tobacco results in a 15 times greater risk for the development of oral cancer. Even on its own, alcohol abuse is the second largest risk factor. It’s thought that because alcohol dehydrates the cell walls in the mouth, carcinogens can permeate the tissue more easily, resulting in the development of cancer.
In addition to raising your risk for oral cancer, drinking affects your teeth by increasing your potential for periodontal disease. Researchers at the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine found a direct correlation between the amount of alcohol consumed and the severity of the risk for gum disease. With five drinks per week, the risk was 10%, and that rose to 40% for people who consumed 20 drinks per week. Gum disease destroys gum tissue and bone and is the leading cause of tooth loss, and gum infections are also though to play a role in heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.
While the effect of alcohol on your teeth’s enamel isn’t dangerous, many cocktails are mixed with sugary fruit juices or soft drinks, which have been proven to cause tooth erosion. According to the American Dental Association, the acid and sugar in soft drinks and fruit juices plays a major role in the deterioration of teeth. When you drink a sugary beverage, the sugars from the drink and the bacterial plaque in your mouth combine to create an acid. That acid then attacks your tooth enamel, causing decay and resulting in cavities.
Finally, regular alcohol consumption or heavy drinking affects your teeth when it results in neglected oral hygiene habits. Have you ever come home after a night of drinking and found yourself falling into bed without brushing your teeth? While one night of drinking doesn’t affect your teeth in any significant manner, repeated missed brushings will result in tooth deterioration. To maintain oral health, the American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice daily and using floss or an inter-dental cleaner to clean between teeth once daily. Since it’s already been discussed that drinking can affect your teeth by eroding the enamel, you may want be particularly diligent about brushing after a night of rum and cokes or margaritas.
Clearly, drinking affects your teeth as much as it affects the rest of your body. When consumed in moderation, alcohol won’t harm your teeth in any significant way, but overdo it, and you may regret it. That cutie across the bar won’t nearly so interested if you can’t flash your pearly whites!