Alcohol is by and large the most widely consumed drug in our country. For many, the type being served means little so long as it gets the party started. Responsible recreational drinking and college age debauchery are common and in most case perfectly normal. Alcohol use that moves into the realm of abuse has devastating health and social consequences. The truth about alcohol is that the lines between social, occasional, routine, expert and addiction can be Robin Thicke level blurred. People often downplay the volumes and frequency of drinking so as to not admit to a problem.
According to various studies, the average North American has four drinks per week. You may be consuming more than that as a result of a social lifestyle or job requirement. It is not indicative of a problem. Dependence and its physical and mental manifestations are.
Alcohol impacts the mouth and teeth of everyone that puts it in their mouth be it once per week or once per day. It is important that you understand this impact. We would be hypocrites of the highest order were we to suggest you never drink again (Stella = liquid gold), however when you do drink, keep today’s post in mind.
What Alcohol Does to Your Mouth
Those who have ever woken up hung over can attest to the following; alcohol makes your mouth incredibly dry. A dry mouth is the result of the absence of saliva. Saliva is our body’s natural means of protecting and nourishing our teeth and oral tissues. A lack of saliva can create major issues over time. Alcohol also has an adverse impact on the pH balance in your mouth, creating an acidic environment that demineralizes our teeth’s enamel. This is often exacerbated and compounded when alcohol is consumed by means of mixed drinks such as red bull and vodka or rum and coke. These drinks are full of sugar and acid that feed cavity causing bacteria. Certain alcoholic beverages can also stain teeth over time. We are looking at you red wine.
Alcohol also irritates the soft tissues of your mouth including your gums and cheeks. These tissues are actually corroded slightly when they come into contact with it. Long term abuse can impact the way cells in these tissues divide, increasing the risk of oral and throat cancer in heavy drinkers. Gum exposure which is inevitable when drinking can lead to gum disease, bacterial infection as well as loss of gum, teeth and bone structure. These are all serious issues that can have a crippling effect on your oral and overall health.
How to Minimize Alcohol’s Damage
Fortunately, there are some quick and easy to employ oral health habits that can minimize the impact alcohol has on your mouth and teeth. Keeping well hydrated is the easiest thing you can do to help. Drink plenty of water whenever consuming alcohol. Using the one for one rule (one glass of water for each alcoholic beverage) is easy and effective. Chewing sugar free gum stimulates the production of saliva, helping your teeth as they are exposed to liquor. Beyond this be sure to brush your teeth after drinking. Make sure to wait at least 20 minutes before doing so. Your enamel is sensitive before then as saliva has not yet been able to mineralize the tooth. Brushing enamel in this state leads to further enamel loss and dentinal sensitivity. Routine dental appointments and cleanings are also part of a prevention action plan.
The truth remains that no amount of brushing or chewing gum will do you any good if alcohol has become something that is no longer consumed in moderation. Alcohol is a poison and depressant by nature. Abuse over time has devastating physical, mental and emotional consequences. The decay and damage to teeth and gums caused by alcohol over time can be identified and treated by your dental professionals. Do not avoid going to the dentist. Oral health problems become worse over time by nature and preventing and early treatment are exponentially better (and cheaper) options than waiting until the issue is no longer bearable.
If you know someone who may have an alcohol abuse problem, please do not hesitate to get them the help they need. You could literally save their life. Several resources can be found here.
Photo: BPS Research