How does alcohol affect oral health?

While moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle, alcohol isn’t generally considered healthy. Part of its mixed reputation comes from both the short- and long-term effects it has on your body and your health, from your brain, to your blood sugar, to your liver.

But what are the effects of alcohol on your gums, mouth tissues, and teeth?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source defines moderate alcohol use as one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men. The CDC considers heavy drinking to be more than eight drinks a week for women, and 15 or more for men.

Gum disease, tooth decay, and mouth sores are all much more likely for heavy drinkers, and alcohol abuse is the second most common risk factor for oral cancer. Read more on how alcohol affects the body here.

Alcohol and teeth

People who have alcohol use disorder tend to have higher plaque levelsTrusted Source on their teeth and are three timesTrusted Source as likely to experience permanent tooth loss.

But are moderate drinkers at risk for serious tooth and mouth disease? There isn’t much conclusive medical evidence. Dentists say that they see the effects of moderate drinking regularly, however.


“The color in beverages comes from chromogens,” explains Dr. John Grbic, director of oral biology and clinical research in dentistry at Columbia’s College of Dental Medicine.

“If you have a preference for mixing liquor with dark sodas or drinking red wine, say goodbye to a white smile,” says Dr. Timothy Chase, DMD, of SmilesNY. “Aside from the sugar content, dark-colored soft drinks can stain or discolor the teeth. Remember to rinse your mouth with water between drinks.”

Beer is only marginally better, according to Dr. Joseph Banker, DMD, of Creative Dental. “Beer is acidic just like wine. That makes teeth more likely to be stained by the dark barley and malts found in darker beers.”


There is no clear evidence of a causal link between alcohol consumption and caries. There are some studies suggesting an association, but these are limited by multiple lifestyle confounding factors. Most studies also compare alcoholics, rather than reporting results for different risk levels of alcohol consumption, so the results cannot be applied to the majority of the population.

Heaviest drinkers have more decayed tooth surfaces and apical lesions. Enberg et al. also found significantly more caries and fewer teeth present in an alcohol dependent group, compared to a control group of social drinkers. However, Dukić et al. found no significant difference in the number of decayed, missing or filled teeth in alcoholics receiving treatment, compared to a control group. They did, however, report a lower unstimulated saliva flow rate and a lower pH of saliva in the alcoholic group.


There is good evidence that alcohol consumption increases the risk of dental and maxilla-facial trauma. A study of patients attending Accident and Emergency for facial injuries found that 55% of injuries by assault were associated with alcohol consumption. This was 11% for falls and 15% for people injured in road traffic accidents. In over 15-year-olds, alcohol was associated with 90% of all facial injuries occurring in bars and 45% on the street. Overall, 22% of all facial trauma was related to alcohol consumption


Halitosis is difficult to quantify. It is a largely subjective condition, which includes a psychosocial component and may have multiple causes in any one individual. However, alcohol intake has been shown to predict oral malodour, using both self-report and quantitative measures. There has also been shown to be a significant association between increased drinking frequency and oral malodour. Additionally, there are increased levels of volatile sulphur compounds in daily drinkers, compared to less frequent drinkers.


Banker also notes that drinks high in alcohol, like spirits, dry the mouth. Saliva keeps teeth moist and helps to remove plaque and bacteria from the tooth’s surface. Try to stay hydrated by drinking water while you drink alcohol.

Alcohol and the Gum disease

Alcohol abuse can lead to gum disease for a number of reasons including:

* It causes irritation to the gum tissue.

* Alcoholics tend to eat poorly, and this leads to nutritional deficiencies which opens the door for all types of disease to arise. These deficiencies in diet can also lower the effectiveness of the immune system and increase the likelihood of developing gum disease.

* Those who abuse alcohol will often ignore the early symptoms of gum disease. This means that an easily treatable case of gingivitis will progress to a more serious condition that involves permanent damage to the teeth and gums.


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