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We all know that too-often midnight snacks don’t do our teeth any favours.
But now dentists are warning of another hidden source of damage to our molars: alcohol. The 2014 American Dental Association study shows only 16 per cent of people in North America have considered the effects of alcohol on their oral health. Yet dentists say even just a nightly glass of wine can dry out your mouth, suck the calcium from your teeth, and leave you with bad breath.
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 leach 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 picking a less acidic, flat wine over prosecco 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.
There are ways you can spare teeth from an acid attack: If you add plenty of ice to a drink, you’ll dilute the harmful effects. Surprisingly, beer isn’t too bad for teeth, as it has quite a lot of calcium, which encourages hardening of the teeth.
Straight whisky or vodka with lots of ice is fairly low on the acid scale. Best of all, mix your spirit with still water.
Try to regularly rinse with water when enjoying several drinks. Or, better still, secrete a travel-size bottle of mouthwash in your bag to rinse with, as this will neutralize acid.
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 alcohol 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 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 cola, which is highly acidic, carbonated and has a very high sugar content.
If you do have an acidic or sugary drink, wait at least half-an-hour before brushing 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, bypassing 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.
Alcohol dehydrates the body, including the mouth, as it is a diuretic (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.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, says 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 reduce as part of the ageing process.
Medicines taken by older people can further contribute to dry mouth, for example, anti-inflammatories, and drugs for high blood pressure or pain relief.
Dr Clover explains: ‘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.’ In other words, if you’re a post-menopausal woman, you’re doubly-blighted.
He adds: ‘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.’
Contact Family Care Dental Clinic for your consultation today!
Located in the heart of North Vancouver, BC, Family Care Dental Clinic is a group of passionate dentists and dental experts who are committed to providing patients with exceptional dental care in a modern and relaxing environment. We at Family Care Dental Clinic offer our clients a wide range of comprehensive dental services for the whole family.
Call (604) 987-3545 or write us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment with a member of our excellent team!