It’s widely accepted and understood that sugar negatively affects our teeth.
Most of us learned the hard way during childhood that excessive consumption of lollies and sugary treats often leads to cavities, which need to be filled by a dentist.
While we may reduce our consumption of lollies and sugary treats as we age, we are introduced to a substance that can be just as damaging if consumed in excess: alcohol.
So, how does alcohol affect your teeth? In this guide, we explore how and why alcohol damages our teeth and share tips for preventing alcohol-induced tooth decay.
Does Alcohol Affect Your Teeth?
While drinking in moderation is unlikely to significantly impact your teeth, there are dental risks associated with excessive consumption of alcohol.
People who suffer from alcohol abuse are at an increased risk of periodontal disease, dental sores, tooth decay, and tooth loss.
Alcohol abuse also increases your risk of developing oral cancer.
How Can Alcohol Damage Your Teeth?
So, how exactly does alcohol affect your teeth?
When consumed in excess, alcohol can be bad for your teeth and cause a few different problems.
Tooth Rotting: Can Alcohol Rot Your Teeth?
Does that delicious glass of prosecco really rot your teeth?
While one glass of prosecco here and there won’t cause tooth-rotting, sustained consumption of alcohol can rot your teeth.
This is due to the sugar content in alcohol.
The bacteria in our mouths feed on the sugar we eat. During this feeding process, an acidic substance is produced.
This acid chips away at our teeth and weakens the enamel, which causes tooth cavities.
Over time, if these cavities are left untreated, bacteria can make their way into the roots of the teeth. This results in gum disease, advanced tooth decay, and tooth loss.
To prevent alcohol-related tooth-rotting, it’s important to consume alcoholic drinks in moderation and opt for beverages with minimal sugar, such as dry wines and spirits mixed with sugar-free soda water.
Most alcoholic beverages have an acidic pH or are combined with acidic mixers, such as soft drinks and juices.
As we now know, acidic substances wear away at our tooth enamel until it slowly dissolves. This process is known as tooth erosion.
Long-term drinkers are at a higher risk of tooth erosion due to sustained exposure to acidic substances.
Therefore, alcohol does affect your teeth by exposing them to acidic substances more frequently.
The presence and severity of tooth erosion will depend on how long you’ve been drinking, how frequently you drink, and whether you suffer from alcohol-related vomiting and/or acid reflux.
Vomiting and Acid Reflux: Can Acid Reflux Rot Your Teeth?
Drinking too much alcohol in one sitting can cause vomiting and acid reflux.
Stomach acids rise into the mouth when vomiting occurs, which can damage the teeth. The same is true for aid reflux.
If this frequently happens due to chronic alcohol overconsumption, it can cause the teeth to wear down and erode.
After vomiting or acid reflux episodes, it’s best to wait at least an hour before brushing your teeth. Our stomach acids soften the tooth enamel, so brushing immediately afterward can cause more damage to the teeth.
In the meantime, rinse your mouth out with tap water or fluoride mouthwash, or chew sugar-free gum to increase saliva flow into the mouth.
Dehydration and Dry Mouth
Alcohol also affects your teeth by causing a dry and dehydrated mouth.
Alcoholic beverages dry out the mouth and reduce saliva flow. When saliva flow is limited, the risk of tooth decay and gum disease increases.
Saliva flow plays an essential role in preventing bacteria from building up and forming dental plaque.
If your mouth is dry or dehydrated, bacteria are better able to adhere to the tooth and erode the enamel, which causes tooth decay.
A dry mouth can also cause bad breath and this can affect a person’s self-esteem and confidence.
To prevent dry mouth, have a glass of water between alcoholic drinks and chew on sugar-free gum. This will help to replenish your saliva.
Alcoholic drinks that are dark in colour — such as red wine — can cause both acute tooth staining and long-term discolouration.
Many people who experience tooth staining will go on to seek teeth whitening treatments to restore the brightness and shine of their teeth.
Tooth discolouration can be kept at bay if you eat food while you drink or chew on sugar-free gum to promote saliva flow.
Oral cancer is six times more common in people who drink alcohol than in those who don’t.
Long-term, chronic alcohol consumption is responsible for this increased risk; it’s not the amount you drink at once but rather the long-term pattern of drinking one or more alcoholic beverages per day that increases your risk of oral cancer.
So, not only does alcohol affect your teeth aesthetically and functionally, but it can also cause significant and life-threatening oral health problems when consumed in excess.
The Australian Government recommends no more than 10 standard drinks a week to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer.
Can Alcohol Cause Sensitive Teeth?
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, why does alcohol make my teeth hurt, you’re not imagining things.
Alcohol can affect your teeth by heightening tooth sensitivity.
Tooth sensitivity typically occurs due to worn-down tooth enamel or exposed tooth roots. As we know, cavities and tooth erosion can arise due to excessive alcohol consumption.
If you have developed cavities or your tooth enamel has eroded due to drinking, you may develop tooth sensitivity.
Alternatively, if you are an infrequent drinker but your tooth roots are exposed or your enamel is damaged for another reason — such as excessive consumption of sugary foods or poor dental hygiene — drinking alcohol may cause discomfort
Consuming very cold, hot, or sugary substances can trigger tooth sensitivity. While that occasional glass of sugary alcohol likely isn’t the root cause of your tooth decay, it may heighten sensitivity in the area.
If you’ve noticed these symptoms, it’s important to make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner these issues are resolved, the less likely it will be that you develop further complications.
Drinking Alcohol After Wisdom Teeth Removal
Many people wonder if they can drink alcohol after wisdom teeth removal.
So, does alcohol affect your teeth if consumed after tooth surgery?
It is strongly advised that you abstain from alcohol post-surgery while your mouth recovers, your gums need time to heal after a tooth extraction, and drinking alcoholic, acidic drinks can worsen pain and prevent healing.
Drinking alcohol after tooth removal also increases the risk of infection, which may mean additional surgeries and treatments down the line.
A Final Word on Alcohol and Your Teeth
Alcohol does affect your teeth.
Long-term excessive consumption of alcohol puts you at an increased risk of tooth-rotting, tooth erosion, dry mouth, tooth staining, and oral cancer.
To reduce your risk of developing alcohol-related tooth decay, drink alcohol in moderation, drink water between alcoholic beverages, and chew on sugar-free gum.
If you have noticed signs of tooth decay, it’s important to make an appointment with your dentist.
At Kew Dentistry, our highly-skilled and supportive team of dentists are here to help you feel your best.
Our dentists are experienced in resolving alcohol-related dental concerns and are ready to work with you on a solution you’re comfortable with. You can contact us to book an appointment or for more information about our services.