Most Americans are casual alcohol drinkers. They drink sometimes, maybe a few times a month, or only on special occasions. Moderate alcohol consumption may (or may not) be associated with health benefits. But what about your teeth? Recently, some images have drawn attention to the potential for alcoholic drinks to damage your teeth.
But how much do you have to fear from your drinking habits? That depends on what you drink, how much you drink, and some secondary impacts of your drinking. Most people who don’t drink much aren’t at risk, especially if they tend to drink with their meals. However, if your teeth have been damaged by alcohol in The Woodlands, dentist Dr. Scott Young can restore their strength and beauty.
The main danger to your teeth is the acidity of the drink. Although our tooth enamel is strong against biting, it’s weak against acid, and even fairly mild acids can damage it. In fact, anything with a pH of less than 5.5 will start to dissolve your tooth enamel.
Since the acid scale is 14 points, with 7 being neutral, you can see that’s not a very strong acid that’s required to damage your enamel. And you’ll realize it’s even weaker when you remember that pH is a logarithmic scale. Each 1-point reduction of pH is a tenfold increase in acidity.
What’s in Your Glass?
Wines are the worst for your teeth. Normal wines have a pH of around 3.5, or 100 times the acidity required to erode tooth enamel. And some highly acidic wines can have a pH as low as 2.73. That’s 600 times the acidity required to break down enamel! Worse, many people tend to sip wines, which leads to long-term acidification of your mouth, and can badly damage your teeth.
Hard liquor tends to be a little easier on your enamel. The pH depends on the type of liquor you enjoy, though. Brandies are the most acidic, with a pH of about 3.5, which makes sense given that they’re distilled from wine. Mash liquors like bourbon and scotch tend to have a pH of 4. Sugar liquors like tequila and rum aren’t as acidic, with a pH of around 5.
Beer is also relatively friendly on the teeth. Most beers have a pH of around 4. Light lagers like Budweiser or Corona may have a pH as high as 4.7. However, wheat beers can have a pH as low as 3.3, and some sour beers can have a very low pH–3 or less. And beers contain soluble silicon that is good for teeth.
Vodkas can be the least acidic alcohol. Premium vodkas may be alkaline (the opposite of acidic) and can have a pH as high as 8.8! That not only doesn’t hurt your teeth, it can neutralize other acids that would hurt your teeth. But be aware: cheaper vodkas tend to be mixed with citric acid for flavor, which can give them a pH of about 4, comparable to other spirits.
But remember that mixers can also influence the pH of your drink. Anything with lemon juice in it will have a much lower pH. Straight lemon or lime juice has a pH of 2, so anything that adds these to the drink is likely to be very acidic. Carbonated sodas tend to have a pH of about 3, so while rum may not be bad for your teeth, a rum and coke is, and if you opt for a Cuba libre with a twist of lime, it’s even more damaging.
On the other hand, if you mix your drink with something neutral or acidic, it can reduce the damage. For example, mixing your whiskey with a little water (the way you’re supposed to) or having a white russian can neutralize acids (even if you’re using cheap vodka!)
Of course, the impact of your drinking also depends on how you drink. Slowly sipping a cocktail in the evening isn’t bad for your body. However, it might be bad for your teeth. The longer the acids are in contact with your teeth, the more damage they do. Constantly sipping re-exposes your teeth to acid regularly, which maintains a long acidic exposure.
It’s better for your teeth to either drink quickly or to drink with your meal. That way, the food can help neutralize the acid. It also stimulates saliva production, which has a neutralizing effect, too.
You also want to make sure you’re not drinking too much. Too much alcohol can be damaging to your teeth indirectly. It can dehydrate you, which will mean that you produce less saliva, which can make your mouth more acidic.
So, if you drink, do it in moderation, and with a meal. At least, you should chase an acidic drink with a glass of water to help you stay hydrated and to neutralize the acid.
Secondary Impacts of Drinking
There are also some other impacts that drinking could have on you that can lead to damaging your teeth.
Some people tend to snack more when they’re drinking. Adding extra carbs and sugars to your diet can lead to an increased risk of cavities and gum disease.
In addition, some people are tempted to skip brushing their teeth when they drink. They just flop into bed after drinking, and that’s very bad for teeth.
If you drink to the point of making yourself sick, this can also be very bad for your teeth. Stomach acids can be very damaging to your teeth, and if you vomit, they get all over your teeth. Make sure you rinse your mouth right away, but resist the urge to brush. Brushing right after your teeth have been exposed to acid can remove more of the enamel. Rinse (water or mouthwash is fine), then wait half an hour for the enamel to harden.
A Dentist Can Help If Your Teeth Have Been Damaged
Unfortunately, many of us don’t know the damage that drinking might be doing to our teeth. The first sign can be when we experience more cavities than we used to, have sensitivity, bad discoloration, or chip or crack a tooth. But when you do, it’s time to consider an approach to fix the problem.
For cosmetic problems, veneers can help. This powerful cosmetic dentistry procedure can brighten discolored teeth, lengthen worn teeth, and also correct other common problems like crookedness or gaps in your smile.
If your teeth are badly eroded, we might recommend dental crowns. These can not only restore your teeth, but the material is highly resistant to acid, so as long as you can maintain your gums, they will protect your teeth from future erosion.
Would you like to learn more about how to restore teeth damaged by drinking or other causes? Please call (281) 367-5559 today for an appointment with The Woodlands cosmetic dentist Dr. Scott Young, Purveyor of Fine Dentistry.