Many Americans have just spent the 4th of July barbecuing and drinking with friends. These celebrations are a great way for us to relax and enjoy ourselves, but what does alcohol do to your teeth?

Those who drink excessively tend to have higher plaque levels on their teeth and are three times as likely to experience permanent tooth loss. Thankfully, that isn’t the case for moderate drinkers but alcohol does take its toll on your teeth.

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You’ve probably heard that your teeth can be stained from all sorts of drinks from coffee to tea to soda, but why? The color in our beverages come from chromogens and those chromogens can attach to the tooth enamel that’s been compromised by the acid in alcohol. This results in stained teeth and one way to bypass this is to drink alcoholic drinks with a straw, especially if you’re drinking a dark liquor or mixing liquor with dark soda. Red wine is also known to stain teeth so if either of these drink types is your go-to, be sure to rinse your mouth with water between drinks. Getting into this habit can keep you hydrated while drinking as well.

If you’re thinking “but I drink beer, so I don’t have to worry about staining”, stop right there. Beer is lighter in color than dark liquors, sodas, and wines but beer is acidic just like wine is. The acidity of beer makes your teeth more likely to be stained by the dark barley and malts found in beer.

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Drinks that are high in alcohol content like whiskey, vodka, and rum can dry your mouth out. It may be counterintuitive that a liquid can dehydrate you but alcohol is notorious for this. When you drink alcohol you have reduced saliva flow so bacteria clings to the enamel and increases your risk of tooth decay instead of being washed away as normal. Drinking water while you drink alcohol can help reduce this effect and it can help you feel better later on in the evening. You can also chew sugar-free gum between alcoholic drinks to increase saliva production even further.

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Sugar Content

You may already know that sugar causes cavities, but you may not realize just how much sugar alcohol contains. Beer and liquor don’t contain any added sugars but most people mix liquor with soda or juice which introduces a very high level of sugar to each drink. On average, a typical dry white wine contains roughly 3 grams of sugar per 5-ounce serving while sweet red wines typically contain 8 grams of sugar for the same serving size.

Sugar intake is a major factor in tooth decay and that is because the bacteria in your mouth live on sugar. Even if you don’t have a lot of sugar while drinking, you make take a less than sober trip to the kitchen to load up on sugary snacks and carbs before bed.

The effects of alcohol on your teeth can range from purely cosmetic to more serious depending on what you drink and how frequently you drink.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol abuse is the second most common risk factor for oral cancer. Individuals who suffer from alcohol dependency tend to have higher plaque levels on their teeth and are three times as likely to suffer from permanent tooth loss. As I’m sure you know, heavy drinking on a regular basis can lead to frequent vomiting and that is not only extremely unpleasant, it’s also damaging to your teeth because of the extreme acidity of vomit.

Many of the effects of alcohol on your teeth can be mitigated but they do have a compound effect so it is important that you visit your dentist twice a year for regular cleanings.