Often criticised for a range of financial and social impacts, regular excessive drinking may be playing havoc with our oral health – especially among 18-29 year olds, new research from the Australian Dental Association (ADA) and Oral-B suggests.
The hidden cost of Australia's drinking culture was revealed in a survey of 400 young Australians which has been released at the start of Dental Health Week.
The Oral-B ADA Dental Health Report revealed that amongst 18-29 year old Australians who drink regularly almost half (46%) will consume five or more drinks per session. As many as three quarters of those admit to not always brushing their teeth after a night on the booze – despite 60% saying they experience a -furry' sensation on their teeth after such an occasion (a tell-tale sign of plaque build-up).
Very few (15%) young Aussie drinkers are concerned about the potential damage the binge might have caused their teeth after a night out. They are simply more worried about how they feel (68%), how much money they spent (66%) or what they might have said or done (33%).
Chairman of the ADA Oral Health Committee, Dr. Peter Alldritt says: 'As our teeth are hard-wearing, we often neglect them in favour of caring for other parts of our bodies which show more immediate or obvious effects from drinking. This would include things like our weight, skin and liver. In the 18-29 year old age group, where drinking is more common, it's even more important to be aware of the dangers to teeth and gums."
'Our focus for this year's Dental Health Week is on raising awareness of the importance of oral health amongst this age group," he added.
When it comes to the impact of alcohol on health and wellbeing, oral health was not a major concern for most young Australians. Key concerns for this age group were weight gain (50%), vital organs such as lungs, kidneys and liver (46%), and their skin (26%).
And it's not just alcoholic drinks that are causing our teeth grief. Our young nation has a fetish for fizz, sugar and caffeine – all of which can have a detrimental impact on oral health if preventative measures aren't undertaken. Over a third of young adults (34%) have a daily cup of coffee, and almost half (47%) have a soft drink, cordial, sports drink or juice on most days of the week.
ADA member and Oral-B spokesperson Dr. Christopher Ho warns that many Australians do so without taking precautionary measures such as rinsing after one of these drinks. 'One of the best ways to minimise the damage to the teeth caused by soft drinks, sports drinks and juices, is simply using a straw! However the research suggests that only 4% of young Australians always take this precaution."
One in ten young Australians also mistakenly believe that diet soft drinks are better for their teeth than regular soft drinks, but Dr. Christopher Ho explains why this may not be the case.
'All fizzy drinks are highly acidic and this can cause real and permanent damage to the teeth. While diet soft drinks might be lower in calories, the same risk to oral health is present."
It's little wonder that the majority of young Aussies (65%) admit to feeling anxious when visiting the dentist!
Dr. Christopher Ho provides his top tips for taking care of your teeth if you are having a night out:
Brush twice a day for two minutes, using a good quality toothbrush and paste. Power toothbrushes that use an oscillating-rotating technology are proven to be more effective than those that move from side to side
If drinking alcohol at parties, minimise the amount of sugary drinks by opting for soda as a mixer rather than soft drink. Also, drink a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks as this will rinse away the acid that causes tooth erosion. As alcohol can also dehydrate your body, drinking water will help stop the mouth from getting dehydrated. When we are dehydrated there is less saliva to neutralise acids which can lead to tooth erosion
If you're only a short walk or cab ride from home, be sure to allow at least 60 minutes between your last drink and brushing your teeth. Brushing your teeth too soon can damage the softened tooth enamel caused by acidity in drinks consumed during the evening
Question: How does regular excessive drinking effect our teeth?
Dr. Christopher Ho: The survey from Oral-B showed that as many as three quarters of people do not brush their teeth after a night on the booze; that's a big issue. Also, with the drinks a lot of them are very acidic and with the acid it can attack the teeth by eroding the enamel. We are seeing alcohol as a big issue in dentistry now as it is a slow progressive problem and all the soft drink that people have along with an acidic diet including salad dressings and mineral water means we're seeing a lot more erosion on the teeth.
Question: What types of drinks cause these effects on our teeth?
Dr. Christopher Ho: A lot of the mixes used with alcohol is soft drink and those soft drinks have sugar which causes plaque and decay but also has the acid which causes a slow problem to the teeth. Mixing with soda water is a better option than soft drink. Often people think choosing the diet option of soft drink will be good for you but it's actually not because although it doesn't have the sugar it has the acid which is a big problem.
Question: Are the results of this survey, so alarming, to you?
Dr. Christopher Ho: I was a bit surprised as I thought there would be quite a number but I was surprised that three quarters of people do not brush their teeth after a night on the booze, that's an alarming number. I thought people would be a bit better and I understand people are binge drinking and not feeling like brushing their teeth. If you look at the statistics from Oral-B only 15% were concerned about their teeth when drinking, they were more concerned about how much money they were spending and the weight gain; which was also surprising.
People take teeth for granted and it's only when they start having problems or loose a tooth that they begin to pay attention; a lot of the problems to teeth are from the early days, in the 20's and 30's. If you look after your teeth in your early years you should be able to maintain them for the rest of your life.
Question: Can you talk us through what the -furry' sensation on the teeth is after a drinking session?
Dr. Christopher Ho: The furry sensation is plaque and plaque is basically bacteria and the furry sensation means there is a lot of plaque building up on your teeth and that is causing decay, quite slowly especially if you leave it there or have exposure to that. Decay leads to cavities. If you feel that furry feeling then you know there is something wrong and you should start brushing your teeth a bit better; it's a tell-tale sign of plaque.
Question: Can you talk us through the advantages of drinking, from a straw?
Dr. Christopher Ho: Using a straw is a good tip; when using a straw you can limit the amount of acid that makes contact with your teeth.
You can have sugars, but it's the constant exposure. People will have a can of Coke and instead of drinking it in one go, will have it sitting on their desk and sip on it for an hour or two and that's bad behaviour because of the constant exposure to sugar and acid on the teeth which causes the damage. You can have sugars but if you are doing it constantly without a break then that's a problem for people.
Question: How can we minimise the damage to our teeth caused by alcoholic drinks?
Dr. Christopher Ho: The other tip I'd like to give is rinsing your mouth with water between drinks. If I am out for dinner and having a glass of wine, I will have a swish of water as wine is also very acidic. Drinking water between drinks or rinsing your mouth out with water between sips is helpful.
Another tip is chewing sugar-free gum as it stimulates saliva which is the body's natural defence against a lot of these problems. If you have saliva then that can be the body's defence.
Question: Does alcohol also increase the risk of a gum infection?
Dr. Christopher Ho: Alcohol doesn't do that but it is a diuretic and it dehydrates you; so if you drink a lot of alcohol you are often also dehydrated and when you're dehydrated you have less saliva in your mouth and in saliva you have good ingredients that protect your teeth against decay and acid erosion which is why having saliva in your mouth is very important; when you are dehydrated you do not have enough saliva to protect your teeth.
Question: Do you believe electric toothbrushes are better than the traditional method?
Dr. Christopher Ho: Yes, I agree 100%! Power toothbrushes with oscillating technology spin at 40,000 times a minute so you can imagine how effective that is compared to you manually doing it. When patients come in and I ask 'What are you doing differently because you're looking after your teeth much better?" It's always because of power toothbrushes; we see it from our patient's perspective. Patients always say to me that their teeth feel cleaner but we can actually see it.
We can see a patient who has a major gum problem and the gums are bleeding, they then start using a power toothbrush and straight away you see the gums get healthier which is a huge change, without the patient having to do too much.
I believe pretty much everyone should get a power toothbrush.
Question: How does coffee affect our teeth?
Dr. Christopher Ho: Coffee basically causes staining of teeth which is evident in a yellowing colour. Coffee is a diuretic so it will also dehydrate you and minimise saliva. People who drink too much coffee have reduced saliva because of the dehydrating effect; sugar in coffee also contributes to a plaque build-up.
Interview by Brooke Hunter