Enjoying a cold beer on a hot summer’s day or an extra-large glass of wine after a long day is a guilty pleasure for many of us. Unfortunately for some, indulging that one drink here and there can lead to complications, including alcohol addiction. Alcohol abuse takes its toll on the body as well as the mind, leading some to investigate alcohol rehab centers for treatment and recovery options.

Today we’re going to discuss an easily overlooked way that alcohol abuse can impact your life: by ruining your dental health.

How Drinking Damages Teeth

Alcohol consumption damages your teeth in three main ways:

  • Stains — The combination of acid in most alcoholic drinks and the dark color of cola and other popular mixers can lead to staining. Fans of red wine are familiar with the toll regular red wine drinking can take on their pearly whites.
  • Dehydration — While it’s common knowledge that alcohol consumption leads to dehydration, alcohol stalls the production of saliva in the mouth, a less-known fact. Saliva plays a key role in keeping teeth clean and healthy, so anything that diminishes saliva production puts teeth at greater risk of damage from the accumulation of plaque and bacteria.
  • Erosion — As mentioned, alcoholic drinks are generally acidic, and acid is no friend to your teeth. Acids, especially when paired with sugars in the majority of alcoholic beverages, can etch the enamel of your teeth, weakening it over time and wearing it away through prolonged exposure.

Additionally, many drinkers have the habit of chewing ice. This can lead to cracked or broken teeth.

How Drinking Damages Oral Health

In addition to specific damage to the teeth, alcohol consumption has a negative impact on your overall oral health. Frequent drinking is increasingly linked to oral and throat cancers, as well as less serious mouth ulcers and sores.

The more you drink to excess, the greater your risk of developing cancers and other serious conditions. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, the risk of developing cancer is compounded for drinkers who also smoke.

People who drink excessively also expose themselves to as much as three times a greater risk for losing at least one tooth due to higher levels of plaque. Those who consume excessive alcohol regularly are also prone to gum disease and other periodontal problems.

Protecting Your Teeth

Whether you are currently seeking treatment for your alcohol abuse or just hoping to protect your teeth from the potential damage done by an occasional night out on the town, you can do a few simple things:

  • Alternate drinks — Between beers, glasses of wine, or cocktails, drink a small glass of water. This helps you to stay hydrated and washes away the acid and sugar residue from your other drinks.
  •  Brush — Rinse your teeth by drinking water, swishing it around in your mouth and spitting it out, then wait about an hour and brush. The wait between rinsing and brushing protects the enamel of your teeth from potential damage during the brushing process and is particularly important if you’ve had many drinks.
  • Whitening treatments — after a big night out, if you find your teeth are visibly discolored, follow your normal brushing routine and pick up a DIY tooth whitening kit. If you’re nearly due for your regular dental checkup, go ahead and schedule it instead and consult with your dentist about your concerns.
  • Regular cleanings —  The best protection is regular preventive cleanings from your dentist paired with a robust routine of brushing and flossing at home. With less buildup on your teeth for stains to cling to, you’ll have an easier time keeping them away.

Whether you are concerned about the impact of alcohol abuse for yourself or a loved one, understanding the implications of prolonged abuse is important to making positive changes. Solid self-care is a great step to take as part of the recovery process, and getting into a good dental hygiene routine is a good piece of self-care to practice.