For years we have become familiar with health warnings about excessive alcohol consumption and its negative effects on the body (cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cancers of the digestive system and psychological problems). Therefore, it is always better to maintain a moderate relationship with alcohol. Whether it’s wine or a simple beer, an excessive amount of alcohol is not beneficial for the body in general at all.
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Oral health is often left out of these warnings, but this does not mean it has no effect on teeth. Alcohol consumption and oral health share a cause and effect relationship. The first acts as a catalyst for the development of some oral diseases.
The most common effects of alcohol on teeth
Some of the most common oral health effects of alcohol, as noted by your doctor Jorge Ferrús, implantologist and periodontist, are dry mouth (the necessary amount of saliva is no longer produced, which minimizes the waterproofing of the teeth) and halitosis or bad breath, to which others must be added, such as:
Periodental problems: a study published in the journal Microbiome notes that alcohol can affect the overall health of the mouth. The researchers looked at the bacterial makeup of more than 1,000 American adult mouths and found that alcohol consumption, especially heavy alcohol consumption, could influence the microbiome of the mouth. This can negatively affect gum health and play a role in the development of gingivitis and periodontitis.
Cavities: The negative effect of alcohol on oral health is not just limited to the gums. Excessive alcohol consumption is also linked to a higher probability of tooth decay because, as the American Dental Association warns (ADA), dehydration caused by alcohol decreases the flow of saliva in the mouth and therefore prevents bacteria from being naturally removed from tooth enamel.
This explains why high alcohol consumption is associated with the presence of plaque and a higher incidence of cavities. Another reason alcohol leads to breakdown is that it is metabolized into sugar, which attracts bacteria.
Dental wear: the pieces become thinner due to the acid attack of the alcohol and, therefore, they are more susceptible to suffer fractures and have greater sensitivity. Enamel protects dentin and, if it wears out, it can cause uncomfortable tooth sensitivity. Drinks like white wine, beer, and cider can be very acidic, which can lead to erosion of the enamel. Also, mixing alcohol with soft drinks increases acid levels in your mouth.
Stains on the teeth: In general, all alcoholic beverages can darken the white color of the teeth. As Ferrús admits, in addition to tea or coffee, “red wine is one of the liquids that contributes the most to tooth staining”. This drink contains polyphenol, a chemical compound that easily stains teeth. Also highly colored foods such as soy sauce, spinach or nuts can stain teeth.
Oral cancer: alcohol causes a change in the rate of penetration of substances from the oral environment through the mucosa and this alteration may play a role in the development of carcinogenesis. According to the General Council of Dentists and Stomatologists of Spain, tobacco and alcohol are responsible for the 90% of oral cancers.
How to prevent oral problems from alcohol consumption
All these effects usually appear when alcohol consumption is high. “The important thing is to drink them in moderation and taking into account the daily hygiene guidelines,” acknowledges the expert. In addition, it is essential:
- Brush your teeth after eating or drinking to prevent staining from penetrating the pieces.
- Have a glass of water on hand to stay hydrated, or take candy with xylitol, and avoid xerostomia (or dry mouth).
- Maintain good hygiene routines.
- Opt for sugar-free and non-alcoholic drinks. According to the Spanish Society of Orthodontics (SEDO), if we are going to consume alcohol it is better to opt for red wine because white or cava are more damaging to the enamel and the cementum of the tooth root.
- Go to the dentist frequently to detect any problems early.
“The most advisable thing is to eliminate, or reduce, the consumption of alcohol”, admits Ferrús, since only in this way the problems caused by these drinks are avoided, “both orally and in the rest of the organism”.
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