Fermented and distilled beverages have been a part of human culture for millennia. They help us celebrate the joys of life and the companionship of family and friends. But alcohol also has a darker side, if over-consumed: a cause for many social ills, a vehicle for addiction and a contributor to “unwell” being. The latter is particularly true when it comes to oral health.
April is National Alcohol Awareness Month, a time when advocates, public officials and healthcare providers call attention to the negative effects that alcohol can have on society at large and on individuals in particular. In regard to oral health, here are a few ways alcohol might cause problems for your mouth, teeth and gums.
Bad breath. Although not a serious health problem (though it can be a sign of one), halitosis or bad breath can damage your self-confidence and interfere with your social relationships. For many, bad breath is a chronic problem, and too much alcohol consumption can make it worse. Limiting alcohol may be a necessary part of your breath management strategy.
Dry mouth. Having a case of “cottonmouth” may involve more than an unpleasant sensation—if your mouth is constantly dry, you're more likely to experience tooth decay or gum disease. Chronic dry mouth is a sign you're not producing enough saliva, which you need to neutralize acid and fight oral bacteria. Heavy alcohol consumption can make your dry mouth worse.
Dental work. Drinking alcohol soon after an invasive dental procedure can complicate your recovery. Alcohol has an anticoagulant effect on blood, making it harder to slow or stop post-operative bleeding that may occur with incisions or sutures. It's best to avoid alcohol (as well as tobacco) for at least 72 hours after any invasive dental procedure.
Oral cancer. Oral cancer is an especially deadly disease with only a 57% five-year survival rate. Moderate to heavy alcohol drinkers have anywhere from 3 to 9 times the risk of contracting cancer than non-drinkers—and generally the higher the alcohol content, the higher the risk. As with other factors like tobacco, the less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk for oral cancer.
Given its risks to both health and well-being, many people refrain from alcohol altogether. If you do choose to drink, the American Cancer Society and other health organizations recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and one per day for women. Being responsible with alcohol will enhance both the overall quality of your life and your oral health.
If you would like more information about the effect of alcohol and other substances on oral health, please contact us schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”