For as far back as we can tell, humans have been drinking fermented beverages. Probably for just as long, we’ve been discussing the benefits and drawbacks of drinking alcohol. Today’s scientists have generated several studies reporting the positive effects of alcohol on our health. Red wine, for example, contains resveratrol, an antioxidant thought to help prevent heart disease and some types of cancer (medical news). Other alcoholic drinks such as whiskey are thought to be linked to health benefits as well. A moderate amount of whiskey has been linked to lowered stress levels, reduced risk of diabetes, and stroke. Beer is thought to reduce the risk of kidney stones.
But what are the effects on your gums mouth and teeth?
First, we need to differentiate between heavy drinkers and moderate drinkers. Heavy drinking has been defined as 4 or more drinks in one sitting for women and 5 or more drinks in one sitting for men. A heavy drinking habit is also defined as 8 or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Drinking, whether moderate or heavy, does have an effect on our oral health. Heavy drinkers are at much higher risk for gum disease, canker sores, tooth decay, and oral cancer.
The consequences of moderate drinking are less severe. The acidity in some alcoholic drinks (such as wine) weakens enamel and makes your teeth more susceptible to discoloration and staining. If you are mixing your drinks with soda such as Coke or Pepsi you are exposing your teeth to more potentially staining color. Habitual consumption of dark sodas, wine, and coffee makes it difficult to brighten your smile.
Alcohol also causes mouth dryness. Saliva kills bacteria in the mouth and helps to remove plaque. Therefore, an adequate amount of saliva is necessary to protect the mouth from gum disease and tooth decay.
Many alcoholic drinks are high in sugar and/or citrus, the number one cause of tooth decay. This is because the bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugar. In addition, citrus (such as lemon) helps to break down enamel and makes your teeth more susceptible to cavities.
4 tips to protect your teeth
You can still enjoy that glass of wine or after-dinner drink once in a while. Here are a few preventative measures to protect your teeth from the effects of alcohol.
- Brush your teeth before you go out. The plaque and tartar on your teeth are magnets for red wine, making it stick to your teeth and worsening the potential for stain.
- Alternate your sips of alcohol with sips of water. Not only will you rinse your mouth of acidity and sugar, but you will also protect your body from dehydration.
- Take extra care to brush and floss your teeth regularly.
- Visit your dentist regularly to make sure your mouth remains in optimal health.
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