Alcohol sales surged over 50% during March 2020 as people prepared to spend more time in quarantine.1 Isolation, boredom, anxiety, and depression can lead to more alcohol consumption. And steady use of alcohol over time can suppress the immune system or increase the risk of pneumonia.2
Alcoholic beverages can also damage your teeth, gums, and mouth tissues. Awareness and prevention go a long way in helping limit the risks to your oral health.
1. Wine-stained teeth
Chromogens are color compounds in food and drink that attach to tooth enamel and cause discoloration. Alcoholic beverages are acidic, and acid alters the surface of the teeth. This change allows chromogens to embed into tooth enamel.
The combination of intense color and acid in red wine often leads to discoloration. But sodas used in mixers can also have a similar effect, and beer isn’t much better. Beer has similar acidity to wine. And barley and malts lead to staining, especially in heavier, darker beers.
2. Enamel erosion
The enamel that covers your teeth is the hardest substance in your body. But its dense, mineralized surface is susceptible to acid erosion. Since alcoholic beverages are acidic, even moderate drinking over time can accelerate damage to your teeth.
Increased enamel erosion may worsen discoloration, but structural damage is a more serious threat. As enamel weakens and thins, it may chip and cause areas that aggravate the tongue or lips. Acid erosion may also expose the tooth layer under enamel, dentin. Dentin contains many small nerve endings, and teeth may become sensitive to hot and cold temperatures.
When it comes to acidity, not all drinks are the same. Different beers are even characterized by different measures. Stouts and porters tend to be more acidic than light beers, and sour beers are usually the most acidic beer of all.
3. Gum disease and cavities
While you may not equate an alcoholic beverage with soda, they can have the same effect on your teeth. Beer and wine contain sugars, and many hard liquors are mixed with fruit drinks and soft drinks. The bacteria in your mouth use sugar for energy, and then they produce acidic waste products. Plaque, a sticky substance made from these components, forms on the teeth and under the gums.
Your genes can influence gum disease and cavities. But both diseases result from preventable bacterial infections. Removing plaque from the surfaces of your teeth and limiting sugary drinks and foods helps control both conditions. Time spent at home during self-isolation provides an opportunity to practice good oral home care habits that will pay off now and in the future.
4. Cracked teeth
You might not think that alcoholic beverages lead to cracked teeth. But many mixed drinks contain ice cubes or crushed ice. If you chew the ice, it can lead to cracks in teeth. The combination of cold temperature and hardness causes stress to the hard, brittle enamel tooth surface. If small cracks develop, they can lead to pain, infection, or broken teeth.
5. Dry mouth
Dry mouth, known as xerostomia, occurs when there’s not enough saliva production. There are many causes for this uncomfortable condition, but many medications are known to contribute to xerostomia. Alcohol dries out the mouth, and it also has a diuretic effect that can lead to dehydration. If you’re taking a medication that causes dry mouth, the addition of alcohol can worsen the problem.
Saliva acts as a buffer against acids, so people with xerostomia tend to have more acidic mouths. Acidity contributes to erosion and decay of teeth, and low saliva output makes it more challenging to chew and swallow food.
6. Oral cancer risk
More than 50,000 people receive an oral cancer diagnosis every year.3 Behind tobacco, alcohol use is the second highest risk factor for developing oral cancer. People who use both have a higher risk than those who use either one alone.
Oral cancer treatment can lead to tooth loss from surgical treatment of the jaw. Radiation may also damage saliva glands and cause xerostomia. Without adequate saliva, teeth are more prone to decay.
Moderate the risk
People who suffer from alcoholism are three times as likely to lose their permanent teeth than non-alcoholics.4 While tooth loss from a few drinks isn’t likely, habits established during quarantine may continue and produce multiple health risks. Practice moderation and keep a consistent routine to care for your teeth now and in the future.
If beer or wine does do permanent damage to your teeth while in self-isolation, contact your dentist. Most dental insurance plans cover preventive care, like cleanings and X-rays, as well as more extensive, costly and often unexpected expenses, such as filings, crowns and root canals.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.