An occasional glass of wine or beer can be part of a healthy lifestyle for many people. However, heavy alcohol consumption can cause numerous short- and long-term health problems that impact your liver, brain, blood sugar, and more. But did you know that alcohol and oral health are also strongly correlated? Gum disease and tooth decay are more common among heavy drinkers, but even moderate drinking can put you at risk for oral health problems like bad breath, tooth wear, cavities, and oral cancer.1
Levels of Alcohol Consumption
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate alcohol consumption is one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men.2 This refers to the number of drinks in a single day, not the average over several days.
One drink is 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol, which should be factored into wine, beer, or cocktails. Heavy alcohol consumption is defined as four or more drinks per day.
The Link Between Alcohol and Oral Health
Alcohol dehydrates because it inhibits the production of a chemical called ADH, which regulates urine excretion. When you drink alcohol, your kidneys expel more fluid than normal, leading to dehydration. You may also have a dry mouth, creating the ideal environment for bacteria.
Periodontitis, or gum disease, is a serious oral health condition with symptoms like plaque, bleeding gums, infection, gum recession, and periodontal pockets that cause the gums to pull away from the teeth. Gum disease also has a link to overall health and may contribute to diseases like stroke, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
Regular alcohol users have more plaque, more gum bleeding, and worsening gum disease than non-drinkers. They also have more significant periodontal pockets than non-drinkers.3
Alcohol and Tooth Decay
Alcohol affects the mouth more than just the gums. People with heavy or problematic alcohol use are also at an increased risk of tooth decay. Because of the effects of dehydration and dry mouth, the bacteria in the mouth can’t be naturally washed away by saliva production.
The higher levels of plaque that occur in heavy drinkers can contribute to permanent tooth loss.4 In fact, heavy drinkers are three times as likely to lose teeth. One way to combat this is by sipping water in between drinks to rehydrate and replenish saliva.
Another issue is that alcohol metabolizes into sugar, which breeds bacteria. While intoxicated, you may forget to brush and floss – or do so carelessly – leaving plaque behind. Brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash after drinking alcohol are important.
There’s evidence that alcohol is a major risk factor for oral cancers. Roughly 3.6% of all cancers worldwide – and over 30% of all oral and pharyngeal cancer cases – may be caused by alcohol consumption. Heavy consumption has about a five-fold risk factor for oral and pharyngeal cancer.3
Bad breath, or halitosis, is a subjective condition, so it’s difficult to measure. Alcohol intake has been proven to cause bad breath with self-reported symptoms and external measurements.4 This is likely because of the volatile Sulfur compounds that are found in the blood and breath in regular drinkers compared to non-drinkers.
Care for Your Oral Health
Occasionally, having a wine or a cocktail can be part of a healthy life. Still, it’s important to understand the effects of alcohol on your oral health to prevent problems from arising. If you’re struggling with oral health problems like gum pain, tooth pain, gum recession, or bleeding, the professionals of Dental Implants & Periodontal Health of Rochester can help. Contact us today to schedule your appointment at 585-685-2005.