Drinking a lot of alcohol isn’t good for your health. It can lead to addiction, making it hard to cut back. Even without a formal diagnosis, you might feel its harmful effects. One lesser-known issue? It can damage your teeth.
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with an alcohol substance abuse disorder, you may have experienced the negative effects of alcohol. One of the most common but often overlooked effects of alcohol on the body involves your teeth.
Here’s how alcohol affects your dental health.
Why Is Alcohol Bad For Your Teeth?
1. Alcohol Has a High Sugar Content
Various alcoholic drinks contain high levels of sugar (glucose and fructose). Sugar is added to sweeten flavor and improve taste. Mixed drinks often include fruit juices or mixers that are full of sugar, a type of carbohydrate.
The amount of carbohydrates in alcohol varies widely:
- Beer: 5 to 13 grams
- Wine: trace amounts to 30 grams
- Sparkling wine: 4 to 12 grams
- Dessert wine: 2 to 18 grams
- Distilled spirits: trace amounts
- Cocktails: trace amounts to 29 grams
- Shooters: 2 to 19 grams
Unfortunately, the sugar in alcoholic beverages is bad for your teeth. Research studies have found evidence that high alcohol consumption can affect teeth due to sugar content.
Too much sugar leads to a higher incidence of the following:
- Higher risk of cavities – decay that causes holes in teeth
- Calculus (plaque) on teeth – a hard film that builds up on teeth and contains bad bacteria
- Apical lesions – inflamed tissue surrounding the roots of teeth
Untreated damage to teeth can cause unsightly teeth, bad breath, and tooth pain. In severe cases, you can experience tooth loss caused by cavities and gum disease (periodontal disease).
Related Reading: 5 Things You May Not Know About the Nonalcoholic Beer Industry
2. Alcohol Disrupts the Production of Saliva
Excess alcohol consumption can cause dehydration in your body. That’s why drinking alcohol gives you dry mouth—because your body is producing less saliva.
Saliva serves several purposes, including oral hygiene, lubrication, tasting, chewing, swallowing, digestion, wound healing, and protection against microbes (e.g., bacteria, viruses, and fungi).
When saliva decreases from drinking alcohol, it can lead to poor oral hygiene and other health concerns.
Alcohol-induced disruptions to saliva production can increase the risk of adverse health conditions, including:
- Oral candidiasis (thrush)
- Gum disease
- Tooth decay
- Respiratory infections
Like many people tend to avoid the dentist, you may hesitate to get treatment for your drinking habit. At Zinnia Health, we make it easy to get the help you need. Search our locations to find a rehab facility near you.
3. Alcohol Contains Dyes
When you think of stained teeth, most people think about daily coffee drinkers. It may surprise you to know that alcohol can stain your teeth as well—and this isn’t limited to people with alcohol addiction. Many beverages contain chromogens.
Chromogens are substances added to beverages to give them their characteristic coloring. These chemicals can also cause tooth stains.
Alcohol-containing chromogens can lead to varied levels of tooth discoloration:
- Red wine– high amounts of tooth staining
- Lager beer – significant amounts of tooth staining
- White wine – no tooth staining
Although it’s not harmful to your health to ingest chromogens, the dye can leave your teeth more vulnerable.
When you drink, the acids in alcohol strip away your tooth enamel. This gives the chromagens a chance to bind to the teeth, making it more difficult to make teeth whiter by simply brushing with teeth-whitening toothpaste.
Short-Term and Long-Term Risks of Alcohol
Poor dental health isn’t the only negative side effect of alcohol. Sadly, between 2015 and 2019, 140,000 Americans died from excess alcohol use. In fact, those who died had their lives shortened by an average of 26 years. (2)
In addition to poor oral health, there are many other short-term and long-term risks of heavy drinking.
Short-Term Risks of Alcohol Abuse:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Risky sexual behaviors
- Miscarriage, stillbirth
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)
Long-Term Risks of Alcohol Abuse:
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Digestive problems
- Weak immune system
- Learning and memory problems
- Mental health problems
- Social problems
The best way to avoid serious health issues is to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. This can be easier said than done when you develop alcohol dependence, so it’s crucial to seek help through treatment programs.
Alcohol and Dry Mouth
Dry mouth, medically termed xerostomia, is a common side effect of alcohol consumption. Alcohol decreases saliva flow, leading to a dry mouth. Saliva plays a crucial role in maintaining oral hygiene by neutralizing acids and aiding in digestion.
Reduced saliva production can lead to various dental health issues, including tooth enamel erosion, increased risk of tooth decay, and bad breath. Drinking water or chewing sugar-free gum can help stimulate saliva production.
Effects of Different Alcoholic Beverages on Teeth
Different alcoholic beverages have varying effects on dental health. For instance, red wine, known for its high tannin content, can lead to stained teeth. On the other hand, white wine and sangria, although less staining, are acidic drinks that can erode tooth enamel over time. (1)
Mixers used in cocktails, like sodas, are sugary and can contribute to tooth decay. It’s advisable to rinse the mouth with a glass of water after consuming these beverages to minimize their impact.
Alcohol Affects Overall Dental Care
While moderate drinking might not have immediate negative effects, heavy drinking over the term can lead to severe dental health problems. Alcohol abuse can lead to discoloration of teeth, increased build-up of plaque, and even tooth loss.
Maintaining good oral hygiene practices, like brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash, can help counteract some of the effects of alcohol. However, the best preventive measure is limiting alcohol consumption and ensuring regular visits to dentistry professionals.
Signs You Have Alcohol Use Disorder
It may not be apparent that you or someone you’re close to has a dependency on alcohol. The effects of heavy drinking vary from individual to individual.
Common signs that you have an alcohol use disorder include:
- You tend to drink more and longer
- You’ve tried to reduce or stop drinking, but you can’t
- Your drinking interferes with taking care of your responsibilities
- You’ve found yourself in dangerous situations while drinking
- You continue to drink even if it makes you feel depressed
- You’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms after not having a drink for a while
Frequent and long-term use increases the risk of substance abuse and the physical and mental health consequences. That’s why it’s crucial to get treatment today.
Tips for Maintaining Oral Health While Consuming Alcohol
For those who choose to drink, there are ways to minimize the negative effects of alcohol on oral health. Drinking water alongside alcoholic beverages can help rinse away sugars and acids, reducing the risk factor for tooth decay.
Opting for drinks with lower sugar content, avoiding mixers with high sugar levels, and practicing good oral hygiene by brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash can also help. Regular dental care, including checkups and cleanings, is essential to detect and address potential health issues early on.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction is Just a Click Away
Substance abuse has many detrimental effects on the body and mind, so it can be hard to recognize them. While bad teeth are commonly associated with people who use prescription and illicit drugs like methamphetamine (meth), alcohol is no exception.
The high sugar content in alcoholic drinks, combined with their ability to reduce saliva production and the presence of dyes, can result in stained, weakened teeth and overall dental deterioration. To maintain a bright and healthy smile, it’s advisable to monitor and moderate your alcohol intake. (3)
Remember, battling alcohol use disorder is not a lifelong sentence. Numerous treatment options, from detox to rehab, are at your disposal. Embarking on the journey to recovery starts with a single step.