If you're cutting back on alcohol for the New Year, or even taking part in Dry January, you'll probably be looking forward to feeling healthier in yourself and having a few more pennies in your pocket! But did you know that your oral health will thank you too?
- Enjoy a more sparkling smile this January
There are many ways in which alcohol consumption can affect the colour of your teeth. If red wine is your usual tipple, you’ll be familiar with the magenta tinge that sneakily stains your teeth after a couple of glasses. For the self-conscious, this is not a desirable look, and can be pretty hard to avoid according to Henry Clover, Chief Dental Officer at Simplyhealth: “Tooth enamel isn’t perfectly smooth, and it’s common over time for micro fractures to appear, into which pigments from dark-coloured alcohol - such as red wine – can settle into. Staining is very common and the only way to reduce the effect is to limit your intake of red wine, drink plenty of water, and keep up a good brushing and flossing routine. Many types of alcohol, including prosecco and other wines, are also acidic which can erode the tooth enamel, revealing the darker dentine layer underneath if drunk frequently. Adjusting your alcohol habits, alongside a good oral health routine, can help to keep your smile sparkling.”
- Enjoy a fresher-feeling mouth
Have you ever woken up after a big night out and felt as though your mouth has been replaced by an arid desert? Alcohol has a diuretic effect on your body, meaning that you can quickly lose water and become dehydrated, according to Henry. “Saliva production is reduced when we’re dehydrated, resulting in an uncomfortable dry mouth, thirst, and bad breath to name just a few effects. Reduced saliva also means you’re at an increased risk of tooth decay and gum disease. By cutting back on alcohol, you’ll notice a difference in how fresh your mouth feels.”
- Lower your risk of tooth decay and gum disease
“Alongside the aforementioned issues with reduced saliva flow and tooth decay, many alcoholic drinks are sugary and acidic, which can increase your chances of developing cavities and enamel erosion,” says Henry. “Your snacking habits often change after drinking alcohol, meaning you’re much more likely to nibble on unhealthy snacks under the influence, which is another major cause of tooth decay. Studies have also shown that excessive alcohol consumption can aggravate existing gum disease, and can also make you less likely to keep on top of your oral hygiene, such as regular brushing and flossing. Reducing your alcohol consumption can make a real difference to your oral health.”
- Lower your risk of mouth cancer
According to Henry, people who regularly drink alcohol to excess are at an increased risk of mouth cancer and adjusting your habits will reap the benefits. “Cutting back on alcohol in January alone might not seem to make much of a difference to your mouth cancer risk in the short-term, but studies 1 have shown that taking part in Dry January makes you more likely to adjust your drinking habits going forward, which will help to reduce your risk of developing the disease in the long-term,” he says.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Oral Health Foundation and Simplyhealth 2, awareness of the links between alcohol and mouth cancer are low amongst UK adults. The survey discovered that just under half of UK adults (45%) don’t realise alcohol is linked to an increased risk of mouth cancer and, worryingly, only a third (30%) said they would reduce their alcohol consumption knowing that it put them at an increased risk of mouth cancer. “With cases of mouth cancer rising by a third in the last decade 3, it’s very important that people are aware of the risks that increase their chances of developing the disease,” says Henry. “By adopting a healthier attitude towards alcohol consumption in the long-term, your mouth will thank you.”
So, with so many oral health and overall health benefits of taking part Dry January, raise your cup of tea and drink to good health this 2018.
To find out more about taking part in Dry January or how you can make positive changes to your alcohol habits, visit the Alcohol Concern website.
2 Online survey of 2,004 UK adults, conducted by Atomik Research on behalf of the Oral Health Foundation and Simplyhealth, Sept 2017