Here’s the bad news: Alcohol isn’t great for your teeth. You probably already had a vague idea that was the case (beer, wine and spirits aren’t really health tonics, after all!), but alcohol’s potentially serious effect on oral health isn’t something we hear much about. After all, does your dentist lecture you about how many beers you drink every night after work? Didn’t think so.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of alcohol’s impact on your teeth and gums. The more you know, the more you can counteract it, right? So here’s the deal on drinking and your dental health.
There’s quite a lot of research that proves how bad alcohol is for your chompers. Gum disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, and mouth sores are all more common in people who are heavy drinkers. Alcoholics have higher levels of plaque on their teeth and alcohol abuse (consuming more than 21 drinks per week) is one of the main risk factors for oral cancer. But the effects are not limited to people who consume large quantities of alcohol—you can be at risk, too, even if you’re a moderate or social drinker.
The acidity in alcohol can wear away the enamel (outer coating) of your teeth, which makes your teeth more susceptible to staining. Wine, unsurprisingly, is the worst culprit for this kind of staining, but any alcohol can put you at risk for tooth discoloration. Weirdly, white wine has been shown in research to be more erosive than red wine—but red wine is still more likely to stain, due to the chromogens (color agents) in the liquid. Mouthwashes with alcohol were also shown to have the capability of actually changing the color of your teeth after prolonged use, according to a 2013 study.
Sugar is a factor in how much damage drinking can wreak on your mouth, just as it is in other aspects of dental health. The more sugary the drink, the worse effects on the teeth. This is because the sugars provide “food” for harmful oral bacteria, which then create acids which destroy your teeth enamel. This is what eventually leads to cavities and tooth decay.
We know—not great for you rum and coke drinkers, but it’s even worse if you’re devoted to strawberry daiquiris, pina coladas, or other sugar bombs intended to get you all tropical-tipsy. While it’s not necessarily tooth-safe to drink wine or gin and tonics, they probably have less of a cavity-producing effect overall.
There’s more. You know how you wake up with a dry, fuzzy mouth when you’re hungover? That’s a result of dehydration, which is itself a result of alcohol’s diuretic qualities. Alcohol has an overall drying effect on your body (causing all those trips to the bathroom!) which can then lessen your saliva output. This can then cause a greater amount of plaque on your teeth. So, the more you drink, the more you pee and the drier your mouth gets—and a dry mouth can become a breeding ground for oral bacteria.
And that’s not all—alcohol can have detrimental effects on your gums, too. Alcohol consumption was correlated to worsening existing periodontal disease or raising risk factors for gum disease when existing disease was not present, according to a 2015 study.
But don’t panic yet, all you wine-tasters and craft beer connoisseurs.The moral of this story is…everything in moderation! You don’t have to stop drinking cold turkey, but you should use this information to deepen your understanding of alcohol’s true effects on oral health—so you can do your part to prevent them.
While drinking, down a glass of water for every alcoholic drink. This will keep you hydrated and also provide a little “rinse” of the teeth, so they aren’t marinating in alcohol for hours on end. Choose lighter-colored drinks, like light beer and vodka, if you’re worried about teeth staining.
And if you do have a night where you throw back a few too many, spend a little time on teeth maintenance in the morning. A careful brush and a thorough floss should go far in undoing the work of a night at a bar or house party.