Spotlight On Alcohol & Oral Health

Ahead of the festive season, our Ipswich dentists take a look at how alcohol can harm our teeth and gums.

Gum disease checkSome of you may be looking forward to it whilst others will be pleased when it is all over, but either way, the fact is that Christmas is not far away at all now. In addition to the lights, TV specials and presents, one thing that is almost certain to increase at this time of year is alcohol consumption, at least for a lot of people.

Whether we drink at parties, while watching TV at home, or both, most of us will probably drink more than we usually do unless we are entirely abstinent. For most people, apart from a few groggy mornings, this will probably pose no long term problems. If we are unlucky or, from a dental point of view, don’t look after our teeth well, the problems of excessive drinking are very real indeed.

Immediate risks of drinking too much

Let us start with the instant impact that too much alcohol can have. Anyone who has drunk to excess will be aware of the effect that it has on us. Unstable when we walk, we are very likely to bump into things or even fall as we trip. We may also even walk into someone much bigger than us who is far from happy about it! All of these can result in injuries, and, if we hit our face as we fall, we may possibly break or knock out a few teeth.

Another problem which people are much more aware of these days, but some still ignore, is drink driving. Sadly, even when drunk, the added confidence that we are a ‘good driver’ may convince some to attempt to drive home rather than take public transport or a taxi. This is obviously very serious and could result in accidents, including fatal ones. Facial injuries are also common and catastrophic damage could occur.

Where severe damage has been caused in this or any other manner, patients will need to make an emergency appointment. Where damage is severe enough, it is advisable that you go to your local A&E department straight away to make sure there are no serious injuries that might need immediate treatment.

Longer term risks

Let us presume that you are sensible enough not to drink and drive and that you have avoided falling or bumping into anything that might damage your teeth. The effect of alcohol on our teeth and gums can still occur, especially if we drink quite regularly.

One of the common long term problems of alcohol consumption is likely to be gum disease. The risk of this is increased due to the fact that alcohol dehydrates us, often meaning that when we wake up in the morning, our mouths will be very dry. As it is likely to have been like this for several hours, it allows the number of ‘bad’ bacteria in our mouths to multiply, and it is these bacteria that can lead to gingivitis and periodontitis. In the early stages this can lead to symptoms such as bad breath, sore gums and bleeding when you brush. Left untreated, it can cause degradation of the bone with the result that teeth become loose and can even fall out.

We should also mention oral cancer here. We recently wrote a blog about this so we won’t repeat ourselves other than to remind our Ipswich patients that alcohol consumption is a significant contributing factor to this potentially fatal disease.

The Foxhall Dental Practice encourages all patients, but perhaps especially those who drink alcohol with any regularity at all, to see their local hygienist. Having the teeth professionally cleaned using a procedure known as a ‘scale and polish’ can really help to make a big difference to the health of your mouth.

Sugar levels

Our additional alcohol consumption over the Christmas and New Year period also means that we consume more sugar too. Even ‘bitter’ tasting drinks often contain a lot of sugar, with others, perhaps designed to be less challenging to the palate, perhaps being even higher.

If we add to this, the additional amount of sugar from the cakes, puddings and chocolates that tend to be eaten over Christmas and it isn’t hard to see how much pressure this puts our teeth under.

A toothache at any time is bad enough, but if a toothache strikes over the holidays, it can not only spoil your break but can also be more difficult to see a dentist when practices are closed over the holidays. If you do need to see a dentist over this period, please call our usual number and listen to further instructions.

Many of us enjoy alcohol, and, in reasonable amounts and by taking good care of our teeth, most of the problems can be avoided. It is always worth monitoring how much you are drinking though and being prepared to cut down a little. The Foxhall Dental Practice also have a role to play in this with regular checkups and dental hygienist cleanings.

If you would like to see a dentist or hygienist at our Ipswich practice, you can contact us by calling 01473 258396.