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Recent reports have linked alcohol to tooth decay and an increase in sensitivity. These reports have particularly suggested white wine as one of the main culprits among the different kinds of alcohol.

There are two main ways in which alcohol damages the oral environment.

Damage to soft tissues

Alcohol dehydrates the soft tissues of the mouth and also causes a decrease in salivation over a period of time. This effect is particularly enhanced in people who use large amounts of alcohol on a frequent basis but an immediate transient decrease in alcohol is seen even on intake of small amounts of alcohol.

This is very harmful for the teeth and the soft tissues inside the mouth. By altering the normal environment inside the mouth, the normal function and structure of the soft tissues are affected. A decrease in the immune protection afforded by the salivary molecules makes the oral structures more prone to bacterial colonization. There is also a shift in the normal commensal flora in the mouth to a more pathogenic (disease causing) bacterial population.

The cells of the cheek divide more slowly and hence take a longer time to repair after small injuries.

The soft tissues also become more sensitive, making it more likely that the brushing habits of the person will be affected adversely.

All of these effects add up to make the person extremely prone to gum disease. There is an increased incidence of abscesses, Gingivitis as well as periodontitis that have long lasting damaging consequences for the dentition.

Damage to the hard tissues

The damage caused to the hard tissues is an absolute effect of the time of contact between the alcohol and the teeth. There are other factors involved like any pre-existing condition which can increase the severity of the effects.

White wine in particular has been shown in experimental studies to possess molecules that make it corrosive to enamel and cementum. These two layers are the outer most protection covering the crown and roots of the teeth respectively.

By eroding these protective layers even just a little, the underlying dentin is exposed to the outer environment. This nerve-rich layer of the tooth can be extremely sensitive to temperature and pressure changes, which can lead to a lot of pain.

Treatment

If pain and discomfort following alcohol intake have been noted, then it is time to consult your dentist immediately. The best possible scenario is that it is just a small amount of erosion in the enamel layer that has taken place and not something major like advanced gum disease which is resulting in pain.

One important thing to remember here is that not all people will get pain at the same time and level of progression of the disease. This varies from person to person and can therefore require widely different treatment from protective fillings to root canals and even extractions in extreme cases.

A dentist who can clinically evaluate the state of the dentition will be the best judge of that.

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