Even though most of us don’t give the notion much thought, what we eat has an inexorable link to the health of our bodies and our teeth. In some instances this link can seem fairly obvious. An ice cream sundae and candy bar diet will not only help to expand your waistline, it will also negatively contribute to your oral health. In both instances, the sugars these types of deserts contain contribute to your decreased overall health when consumed too frequently.
While most people understand that diets high in sugar contain a lot of additional calories, which contributes to weight gain, many may also fail to understand how that sugar can negatively affect their oral health.
When you consumer sugar, the sticky bacteria that lives in the mouth known as plaque begins to produce acids that eat away at tooth enamel. Over time, and these plaque acids can cause small pits to develop in your teeth where bacteria can begin to grow and thrive. This bacterial growth eventually leads to tooth decay and gum disease, the leading cause of tooth loss.
Even though you might naturally assume that cutting back on the amount of deserts you consume will improve your health, sugar is a lot harder to avoid than you might initially suspect, especially if you drink alcohol.
A recent study has found that alcohol contributes to roughly an additional 100 calories a day to the average American adult’s diet. However, the study also concluded that alcoholic beverages such as beer, liquor, and wine might actually contribute even more daily calories to the diets of younger adults, especially young men.
The study, which was part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, found that individuals who drink alcohol receive approximately 16 percent of their daily calorie intake from those beverages. What makes alcoholic drinks so heavy in calories is the sugar they contain.
Dietary guidelines recommend by the U.S. Department of Agriculture state that no more than 15 percent of an individual’s daily calorie intake should come from added sugars or solid fats. However, since alcohol ranks as an added sugar source, the study’s finding of 16 percent place alcohol consumption alone as exceeding the recommended levels of daily sugar intake. When added to normal sugar intake, frequent alcohol consumption can lead to 20 to 25 percent of your daily calories intake coming from sugar.
The Unhealthy Consequences
According to the study, men receive roughly 150 extra calories a day from drinking, while women receive an additional 50 calories a day. Men between the ages of 20 to 30 actually receive the most additional calories a day from drinking, at 174. With up to 25 percent of an individual’s daily calories coming from the consumption of sugar, it’s easy to understand what affect this can have on a person’s diet. However, less obvious is what this excessive sugar consumption can have on the health of your teeth.
As previously noted, every time you consume sugar, plaque begins to produce acids that damage the health of your teeth and gums. When you eat a meal, your mouth produces additional saliva, which works as a natural neutralizer against the harmful affects of plaque acids. When you drink alcohol, not only does your mouth not produce additional saliva to wash away these acids, it actually produces less.
Drinking alcohol dehydrates the body, causing you to experience dry mouth and less saliva production. You don’t notice the fact that your mouth has started to produce less saliva because you’re constantly wetting the mouth while drinking. However, this dehydrating effect is why you often feel the need to drink water after consuming a few glass of wine or beer.
So with little saliva to help neutralize plaque acids, each time you drink alcohol, you wash your teeth in sugary liquids that directly contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. It’s little wonder then that moderate to heavy drinks have a higher risk of developing periodontal disease and tooth loss when compared to light or nondrinkers, according to the American Dental Association.
Fortunately, you can help prevent alcohol’s affect on your oral health by brushing after drinking. If you don’t have the time or opportunity to brush after drinking, make a point to sip some water after every few sips of alcohol you take. This will help to neutralize harmful acids, while also preventing dry mouth.
As for additional weight gain, moderation is the key. If you have plans to drink later in the day, make a point to avoid eating anything sweet that day in order to save your daily allotted sugar consumption. Not only does this mean less candy, it also means cutting back on sodas, sweetened fruit juices, lattes, and any other beverage high in sugar.
Timothy Lemke writes about how to maintain your oral health for Dr. Lance Heppler, a cosmetic dentist in Vancouver, Washington at Dental Designs.