It's pretty common knowledge that a drink now and then is not a major health concern -- and may even be good for you. But more than a few drinks really poses some health threats, from an increased risk of liver disease to bleeding ulcers. One downfall of excessive alcohol intake that's not discussed as often is its impact on your oral health. Here's a look at three ways excessive alcohol consumption can damage your teeth, gums, and oral tissues.
You may think of oral cancer as an issue that's limited to smokers, but in fact, excessive alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for oral cancer, too. If you drink 3.5 or more drinks per day, you are at least twice as likely to develop oral cancer as a non-drinker. Cancerous lesions may develop on the tongue, lips, gums, or cheeks. Your dentist will check for signs of oral cancer during your regular checkups, which is one reason why it's so important to visit your dentist regularly. However, even when caught relatively early, most cases do require surgical removal of some oral tissues, which could lead to disfigurement.
Alcohol has a dehydrating effect. So, when you sip an alcoholic beverage -- and even afterward -- your mouth tends to dry out. This leaves oral bacteria to have a heyday as there's not so much saliva around to rinse them away. And oral bacteria lead to tooth decay. This problem is often compounded by the fact that many alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and cocktails, are rather high in sugars. The sugars feed the oral bacteria, further accelerating the decay.
The same bacteria that cause tooth decay also cause gum disease. They can work their way between your teeth and your gums, leading to swelling and redness. While gum disease may initially seem like a minor annoyance, it can get really bad really fast. Before long, your teeth may get looser in their sockets as the bacteria begin to eat away at the ligaments that hold them in place. Many people with advanced gum disease end up losing some teeth. While remedies like mouthwash and frequent tooth brushing can keep gum disease under control, you're unlikely to get rid of the problem completely if you don't moderate your drinking.
If you want to keep your teeth and gums healthy, it really is best to keep your alcohol intake under control. Talk to your dentist to learn more.