How that nightly glass of wine can wreck your teeth Thursday, August 7, 2014 @ 09:44:17


We all know that sugary snacks and acidic fruit juice don’t do our teeth any favours.  But now dentists are warning of another hidden source of damage to our teeth: alcohol.

Dentists say even just a nightly glass of wine can dry out your mouth, suck the calcium from your teeth, and leave you with bad breath. Alcohol is also increasingly associated with mouth cancer.

Here, we reveal how too much booze could wipe the smile off your face...


When we put acidic food or drink — such as citrus fruits, fruit juice, coffee and even chocolate — in our mouths, enamel, the white, protective, calcium coating on the surface of the teeth, starts to dissolve.  This is because the acid softens enamel, allowing some of its calcium content to leach out, weakening its structure. When enamel is eventually worn away, nerves underneath can be exposed, leading to sensitivity and pain.

Most alcoholic drinks are extremely acidic, with sparkling beverages at least as acidic as orange juice. As a rule, dry, sparkling wines are the worst of all alcoholic drinks, as the bubbles in them are caused by carbon dioxide, which is acidic. You’d be better picking a less acidic, flat wine over prosecco or champagne.

Artificial carbonated drinks of any kind also pose a threat because manufacturers pump them full of carbonic acid to produce bubbles, which helps soften teeth further. Fruit ciders are often artificially carbonated, so steer clear. Even fizzy water, harmless though it may seem, is very acidic!

For this reason, it is always better to choose any kind of flat drink over bubbles. As a rule, white wine is more acidic than red, though neither is great for teeth.

But there is hope, here are some ways you can spare teeth from an acid attack:

  • If you add plenty of ice to a drink, you’ll dilute the harmful effects
  • Surprisingly, beer isn’t too bad for teeth, as it has quite a lot of calcium, which encourages hardening of the teeth.
  • 'Detergent' foods, such as celery and cheese, scrub teeth clean while you eat them
  • Straight whisky or vodka with lots of ice is fairly low on the acid scale. Best of all, mix your spirit with still water.
  • Try to regularly rinse with water when enjoying several drinks. Or, better still, secrete a travel-size bottle of mouthwash in your bag to rinse with, as this will neutralise acid.

Wearing away enamel with acidic and sugary drinks will discolour teeth by exposing the dentine underneath, which is a darker, yellower shade.  So, whatever you do, don’t add to this by staining them as well.  Clear drinks aren’t a problem, but those darker in colour are.

Most obviously, red wine and port are drinks to avoid, but you should also steer clear of cranberry juice or blackcurrant cordial. Coffee-based cocktails are also a problem. These drinks can also stain expensive white fillings and dentures.  If teeth are stained, this may be removed by thorough brushing, but don’t over-brush as, counter-intuitively, you’ll brush away more enamel and make them look even worse.

If heavy staining can’t be shifted, visit your dentist or hygienist for professional whitening. If you’re really worried, you could ask the dentist for a custom-made rubber mouth guard.

If you can survive the embarrassment, this will cover teeth while you drink and protect against staining...not the best option I wouldn't think!


Pina coladas, sticky liqueurs and sweet sherry are tempting, but are also full of sugar.  This is harmful to teeth, as the bacteria in our mouths feed off this sugar and release acid as a by-product, fuelling the process of tooth decay.

If you combine already-acidic alcohol with a mixer, such as cola, lemonade, tonic water, or juice (all of which are very acidic and sugary), the result is even more harmful to your teeth than either of the separate parts.

It may seem odd, but a creamy drink, such as Bailey’s, is a better option: while the sugar content is high, it is not acidic, so you’re not facing a double-whammy.

The best drink is probably something like a non-sparkling vodka cocktail — for example, one containing coconut water, which is very low in acid.

The worst are pre-mixed drinks, such as Bacardi Breezers, which have a high level of added sugar, or something like rum and full-sugar cola, which is highly acidic, carbonated and has a very high sugar content.

Go for diet cola or diet tonic, which are sugar-free, but bear in mind they are still highly acidic. For cocktails, pick a ‘short’ drink, as this means you expose your teeth to a smaller portion of harmful acids and sugars.

If you do have an acidic or sugary drink, wait at least half-an-hour before brushing your teeth.  This will allow the surface of the enamel to harden up and stop you eroding it by brushing.

Better yet, use a straw. This means you’ll direct harmful liquids into your throat, bypassing most of your teeth.

Finally, as you recover from your hangover, you may crave sugary foods, but try your best not to add to the dental onslaught with a high-sugar fry-up for breakfast.


Alcohol dehydrates the body, including the mouth, as it is a diuretic (it makes the body pass out more water), resulting in reduced saliva flow.  Saliva helps fight bacteria in the mouth so, when it is dry, the micro-organisms flourish, leading to plaque build-up and, inevitably, bad breath.

Plaque, in turn, leads to higher risk of tooth decay, as well as gum disease, where bacteria irritate the gums, leaving them swollen, sore, or infected, resulting in bleeding during brushing.

Get that furry-mouth feeling after drinking? When the amount of saliva is reduced, the mouth feels uncomfortable rather than healthy and well-lubricated.

In fact alcohol will dehydrate your mouth and leave it a bit like those of post- menopausal women and the elderly — these two groups see saliva flow naturally reduce as part of the ageing process.

Medicines taken by older people can further contribute to dry mouth, for example, anti-inflammatories, and drugs for high blood pressure or pain relief.  These people’s problems with dry mouth would only be made worse if they drink a significant amount of alcohol without being very careful to keep their water intake up.

In other words, if you’re a post-menopausal woman, you’re doubly-blighted.  So, always drink lots of water in between alcoholic drinks and when you get home and sugar-free chewing gum and mints can help keep your mouth moist, as they stimulate saliva production.


Drinking to excess, particularly in combination with smoking, is a risk factor for mouth cancer.  Anyone drinking within the recommended daily limits shouldn’t worry, but binge drinking is a risk factor on its own and, when it is combined with smoking, it increases the risk to 30 times.

This is because alcohol can have a direct effect on the cells lining the inside of the mouth, including gums and cheeks — and spirits are the worst culprit.