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close-up of dentist working on patient's teeth

Alcohol consumption is a serious public health challenge worldwide. Although the level of alcohol consumption differs widely around the world, the burden of disease and death remains significant in most regions. Occasional and moderate drinking can be part of a healthy lifestyle, but heavy alcohol consumption is associated with a variety of short-term and long-term problems. It can affect the health of your liver, brain, blood sugar, and your mouth.

What most people don’t realize is just how much damage alcohol can do to your oral health. There are severe effects of alcohol on gums, mouth tissues, and teeth. Just one alcoholic drink a day changes the balance of bacteria in the mouth and can lead to a range of diseases from tooth decay to cancer, a study has revealed.

Researchers looking at the effects of alcohol on oral health discovered drinking habits influence the types of bacteria that reside the mouth, with higher numbers of so-called ‘bad bacteria’ found in those who consume alcohol daily. Scientists tested saliva samples from more than 1,000 adults and found that, compared to non-drinkers, those who had one or more alcoholic drinks per day saw a reduction of healthy bacteria in the mouth, with a significant increase of harmful bacteria also detected.

Such changes could contribute to alcohol-related diseases, such as gum disease, tooth decay, mouth sores, head and neck cancer, and digestive tract cancers.

What about the teeth?

People who have alcohol use disorder tend to have higher plaque levels on their teeth and are three times as likely to experience permanent tooth loss.

Staining

The color in beverages comes from chromogens. Chromogens attach to tooth enamel that’s been compromised by the acid in alcohol, staining teeth. One way to bypass this is to drink alcoholic drinks with a straw. Also if you have a preference for mixing liquor with dark sodas or drinking red wine, say goodbye to a white smile. Aside from the sugar content, dark-colored soft drinks can stain or discolor the teeth.

Dehydration

Alcohol consumption leads to a decrease in saliva flow, so instead of being washed away naturally, bacteria cling to the enamel and increases your risk of tooth decay. Try to stay hydrated by drinking water while you drink alcohol. You can also chew sugar-free gum or pop a mint on your tongue between drinks to increase saliva production further.

Sugar Content

Sugar intake can be a major risk factor in tooth decay. That’s because the bacteria in your mouth lives on sugar, so sipping on sweet hard drinks offers that bacteria plenty of fuel to thrive. When in doubt, opt for a drier drink or that are low in sugar for healthier teeth.

Other damage

Tooth damage related to alcohol is increased if you chew the ice in your drinks, which can break your teeth, or if you add citrus to your beverage. One study did conclude, however, that red wine kills oral bacteria called streptococci, which are associated with tooth decay. Having said that, don’t start drinking red wine just for this reason.