We’ve all been warned that sugary snacks and acidic fruit juice don’t do our teeth any favours. But now dentists are warning of another hidden source of damage to our molars alcohol.
Towards the end of last year, it was revealed very few people have considered the effect of alcohol on their oral health.
Yet dentists say even just a nightly glass of wine can dry out your mouth, such the calcium from your teeth, and leave you with bad breath.
Alcohol is also increasingly associated with mouth cancer. Here, dental experts reveal how too much drink could take the smile off your face…
The Acid Test: When we put acidic food or drink – such as citrus fruits, fruit juice, coffee and even chocolate – in our mouths, enamel, the white, protective, calcium coating on the surface of the teeth, starts to dissolve.
This is because the acid softens enamel, allowing some of its calcium content to leak out, weakening its structure. When enamel is eventually worn away, nerves underneath can be exposed, leading to sensitivity and pain.
Most alcoholic drinks are extremely acidic, with sparkling beverages at least as acidic as orange juice. As a rule, dry, sparkling wines are the worst of all alcoholic drinks, as the bubbles in them are caused by carbon dioxide, which is acidic.
You’d be better off picking a less acidic, flat wine over proseco or champagne.
Artificial carbonated drinks of any kind also pose a threat because manufacturers pump them full of carbonic acid to produce bubbles, which helps soften teeth further.
Fruit ciders are often artificially carbonated, so steer clear. Even fizzy water, harmless though it may seem, is very acidic. For this reason, it is always better to choose any kind of flat drink over bubbles. As a rule, white wine is more acidic than red, though neither is great for teeth. Dr. Henry Clover, a dentist with dental insurance specialists Denplan, says there are ways you can spare teeth from any acid attack.
“If you add plenty of ice to a drink, you’ll dilute the harmful effects,” he says. “Surprisingly, beer isn’t too bad for teeth as it has quite a lot of calcium which encourages hardening of the teeth”.
Staight whisky or vodka with lots of ice is fairly low on the acid scale. Best of all, mix your spiring with still water. Try to regularly rinse with water when enjoying several drinks. Or, better still, put a travel-size bottle of mouthwash in your bag to rinse with as this will neutralise acid.
Staining Pain: Wearing away enamel with acidic and sugary drinks will discolour teeth by exposing the dentine underneath, which is a darker, yellower shade. So, whatever you do, don’t add to this by staining them as well. Clear drinks aren’t a problem, but those darker in colour are. Most obviously, red wine and port are drinks to avoid, but you should also stand clear of cranberry juice or blackcurrant cordial. Coffee-based cocktails are also a problem. These drinks can also stain expensive white dentures and fillings.
If teeth are stained, this may be removed by thorough brushing, but don’t over-brush as, counter-intuitively, you’ll brush away more enamel and make them look even worse.
Sugar Attack: Pina Coladas, sticky liqueurs and sweet sherry are tempting, but are also stuffed with sugar.
This is harmful to teeth, as the bacteria in our mouths feed off this sugar and release acid as a by-product, fuelling the process of tooth decay. If you combine already-acidic alcoholic, drink with a mixer, such as cola, lemonade, tonic water, or juice (all of which are very acidic and sugary), the result is even more harmful to your teeth than either of the separate parts. It may seem odd, but a creamy drink, such as Bailey’s, is a better option. While the sugar content is high, it is not acidic, so you’re not facing a double-whammy.
The best drink, according to Dr. Clover, is a non-sparkling vodka cocktail – for example, one containing coconut water, which is very low in acid. The worst are pre-mixed drinks, such as Bacardi Breezers, which have a high level of added sugar, or something like rum and full-sugar coca, which is highly acidic, carbonated and has a very high sugar content. Go for diet cola or Slim-lime tonic, which are sugar-free, but bear in mind they’re still very highly acidic. For cocktails, pick a ‘short’ drink, as this means you expose your teeth to smaller portion of harmful acids and sugars.
If you do have an acidic or sugary drink, wait at least half-an-hour before brushing your teeth.
This will allow the surface of the enamel to harden up and stop you eroding it by brushing. Better yet, use a straw. This means you’ll direct harmful liquids into your throat, bye-passing most of your teeth. Finally, as you recover from your hangover, you may crave sugary foods, but try your best not to add to the dental onslaught with a high-sugar fry-up for breakfast.
Bad Breath: Alcohol dehydrates the body, including the mouth as it is a diurectic (it makes the body pass out more water), resulting in reduced saliva flow. Saliva helps fight bacteria in the mouth so, when it is dry, the micro-organisms – flourish, leading to plaque build-up and, inevitably, bad breath.
Plaque in turn, leads to higher risk of tooth decay, as well as gum disease, where bacteria irritate the gums, leaving them swollen, sore, or infected, resulting in bleeding during brushing. Get that furry-mouth feeling after drinking? When the amount of saliva is reduced, the mouth feels uncomfortable rather than healthy and well-lubricated.
According to Dr. Clover, alcohol will dehydrate your mouth and leave it a bit like those of post-menopausal women and the elderly.” These two groups see saliva flow naturally reduced as part of the ageing process. Medicine taken by older people can further contribute to dry mouth, for example, anti-inflammatories, and drugs for high-blood pressure or pain relief.
“These people’s problems with dry mouth would only be made worse if they drink a significant amount of alcohol without being very careful to keep their water intake up,” says Clover. In other words, if you’re a post-menopausal woman, you’re doubly blighted.
“Always drink lots of water in between alcoholic drinks and when you get home. Sugar-free chewing gum and mints can help keep your mouth moist, as they stimulate saliva production.”
Cancer Risk: Between 75 and 80 per cent of mouth cancer patients say they frequently drink alcohol, according to Cancer Research UK.
“Drinking to excess, particularly in combination with smoking, is a risk factor for mouth cancer,” warns Clover.
“Anyone drinking within the recommended daily limits shouldn’t worry, but binge drinking is a risk factor on its own and, when it is combined with smoking, it increases the risk to 30 times”. This is because alcohol can have a direct effect on the cells lining the inside of the mouth, including gums and cheeks – and spirits are the worst culprits.