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Alcohol and Health

How Does Alcohol Harm Your Dental Health?

Published:
August 4, 2023
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12 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 4, 2023
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12 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 4, 2023
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12 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 4, 2023
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12 min read
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Reframe Content Team
August 4, 2023
·
12 min read

When it comes to alcohol, many of us view it as a trusted friend, a confidence booster that adds a sparkle to our social interactions, a soothing balm after a hard day's work. But have you ever wondered what this "friend" might be doing to your oral health? In other words, is alcohol bad for your teeth? And what are the long-term effects of alcohol on your mouth?

Alcohol can wage a stealthy war against your teeth, gums, and overall mouth health. We’re going to shine a light on the darker side of drinking, detailing how alcohol's flirtatious dance with your dental health could lead to everything from cavities and gum disease, to tooth staining and even oral cancer. Pour yourself a non-alcoholic beverage and let's delve into the sobering truths about alcohol's attack on your dental health.

Is Alcohol Bad for Your Teeth?

Alcohol is often hailed as a social lubricant, helping to break the ice at gatherings or wind down after a long day. However, its effects on our bodies — particularly our mouths — are far from friendly. 

Our dental health isn't just about maintaining a great smile; it's an essential part of our overall health and general well-being. Let's dive into the details of how alcohol affects your teeth and learn more about the long-term effects of alcohol on the mouth.

  • Dry mouth. Ever wondered why you feel parched after a night of drinking? Alcohol is a known dehydrating agent. Dry mouth might not seem like a big deal, but it's actually damaging to oral health. Our saliva washes away food particles and neutralizes harmful acids. Without enough of it, we’re at a greater risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Tooth decay and cavities. Alcoholic beverages — particularly mixed drinks — are often high in sugars and acids. These can damage your tooth enamel, leading to cavities and tooth decay. No amount of brushing and flossing can fully protect you if alcohol is a regular visitor to your mouth.
  • Gum disease. Alcohol can irritate and inflame your gums, leading to a condition called periodontitis. This can cause your gums to recede and lead to tooth loss. Not quite the picture-perfect smile, is it? Moreover, gum disease (especially if we neglect it) can lead to more serious health problems down the road. For one thing, it can cause tooth loss. The bacteria that causes it can also get into your bloodstream, possibly leading to respiratory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, coronary artery disease, preterm birth and low birth weight, and issues with blood sugar control in diabetes.
  • Tooth staining. Many alcoholic beverages, such as red wine, cola mixers, and dark liquors, contain chromogens. These are compounds that are rich in color and can cling to the enamel on our teeth, leading to staining. Moreover, the acidity in alcohol can wear down the enamel — the outer layer of our teeth that protects against staining. Once this enamel is weakened, our teeth are more vulnerable to discolorations from food, drinks, and, yes, more alcohol.
  • Mouth ulcers. Can alcohol cause mouth ulcers? While it doesn’t cause ulcers directly, booze can contribute to their development or make existing ones worse. How? A combination of dehydration, an acidic environment, nutritional deficiencies, and a compromised immune response are all contributing factors. 
  • Oral cancer. Did you know that regular, heavy alcohol use is a major risk factor for oral cancer? Alcohol can damage cells in the mouth, causing them to grow abnormally — a process that can lead to oral cancer.
  • Nutrient absorption. Chronic alcohol use can interfere with nutrient absorption, including vitamin B, folic acid, and iron. These nutrients are key players in maintaining a healthy mouth and a strong immune system.
  • Impact on dental work. Alcohol can potentially damage existing dental work such as fillings, crowns, and veneers. This may lead to additional dental procedures, discomfort, and added costs.
  • Bad breath. While not a health concern per se, bad breath can certainly impact our social and professional interactions. Alcohol’s drying effect encourages the growth of bacteria in the mouth that cause bad breath.

Can Your Dentist Tell If You Do Drugs?

A related question that comes up when talking about the long-term effects of alcohol on the mouth is, “Can your dentist tell if you do drugs?” Dentists are trained professionals who can often detect signs and symptoms in the oral cavity that may suggest a patient is using drugs, especially when it comes to substances that can cause noticeable physical changes or dental issues. Here are some ways in which drug use may become apparent to a dentist:

  • Tooth decay and gum disease. Many drugs can lead to severe tooth decay, dry mouth (xerostomia), and gum disease. The patterns of decay may be more rampant and severe than what would typically be seen from diet and hygiene factors alone.
  • Bruxism. Drug use, particularly stimulants, can lead to teeth grinding (bruxism), which can cause wearing down of teeth, fractures, and jaw disorders.
  • Oral lesions. Some drugs can cause distinctive lesions in the mouth.
  • Dry mouth. Many drugs reduce saliva production, which is a critical factor in neutralizing acids and protecting teeth and gums. Persistent dry mouth can be a sign of drug use.
  • Soft tissue damage. Smoking drugs like crack cocaine or methamphetamine can lead to burnt oral tissues, or sores, and distinctive staining and damage to the teeth.
  • Chemical erosion. Acidic drugs that are either ingested orally or cause acid reflux can lead to erosion of the enamel.
  • Poor oral hygiene. Some people who use drugs may neglect oral hygiene, which a dentist can often detect as an overall decline in the health of the oral cavity.

It's important to note that while dentists can observe these signs, they are not typically trained to diagnose substance misuse disorders. However, they can encourage patients to seek help or refer them to appropriate healthcare providers if there is a concern about drug use and its effects on their oral and overall health. Also, patient confidentiality laws require dentists to respect their patients’ privacy. So while your dentist might be able to spot the signs, think of them as an ally who can point you in the right direction to get extra support.

Taking a Bite out of the Problem

So is alcohol bad for your teeth? Unfortunately, yes. As sobering as the above may sound, there are steps you can take to protect your oral health, even if you're not ready to completely quit drinking.

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after consuming alcohol. This can help prevent dry mouth and flush away sugars and acids.
  • Limit sugary drinks. Opt for beverages that are lower in sugars and acids. A simple swap could spare your teeth a lot of harm. You might be surprised at how much better you — and your teeth — will feel!
  • Chew sugar-free gum with xylitol. Xylitol has been shown to reduce bacteria that can lead to cavities.
  • Don't skip your oral hygiene routine. Brushing and flossing regularly, and correctly, can help reduce the damage caused by alcohol. Use toothpaste with fluoride to strengthen enamel and protect against decay.
  • Avoid ice chewing. Chewing ice can damage dental work, such as crowns or fillings.
  • Have regular dental check-ups. Regular visits to your dentist can help catch potential problems early before they become more serious. Don’t hesitate to bring up any alcohol-related concerns or worry about being judged — there’s no shame in being proactive about your health, and they’ve heard it all before!

Remember, the best defense against alcohol-related oral health issues is to reduce your alcohol consumption or quit altogether. Taking care of your dental health is a step towards a healthier, happier life. Your future self — and your future smile! — will thank you for it.

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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