Do you notice the morning after Saint Patrick’s Day or New Year’s your mouth is exceptionally dry? Your tongue sticks to the insides of your cheeks or the roof of your mouth, leaving you gasping for a tall glass of ice water? Well, you aren’t alone in your sticky-mouth situation. Consumption of alcohol can result in a very dry and sticky mouth and tongue. Is this alcohol-induced dry mouth anything to worry about? Or is dry mouth after drinking just an irritating result of having too much fun?
What Causes Dry Mouth After Drinking?
Around 70% of Americans drink alcohol, so most have had the experience of waking up after a night on the town feeling parched. But what is it about drinking that dries out the mouth? And maybe, more importantly, what kind of effect does it have on our oral health?
Alcohol is a diuretic. When you drink alcohol, the body processes it in a way that causes excess urination. Through a complex interplay of the alcohol molecules and hormones in the pituitary gland, even a few drinks greatly impacts how much water is pushed out of your system. If you think you can drink a glass of water in between each of your gin and tonics to stave off that morning dry mouth, think again. It takes a lot more water than one glass per drink to stave off the diuretic effects of alcohol. Even if you try to keep up, you likely will still urinate more water than you should if you want to stay well hydrated.
Is Dry Mouth Really That Bad?
It really depends. Having a dry throat after drinking alcohol once or twice a year isn’t a big deal. However, most people experience dry mouth even when they are not drinking. If you take medication that causes dry mouth, adding the dry mouth stress from occasional cocktail hour on top of your daily dry mouth can have detrimental effects to your oral health.
Saliva is the #1 protective factor when it comes to shielding your teeth from decay. Saliva is capable of holding minerals that the enamel needs to repair itself so that teeth can incorporate those minerals into the enamel surface when pH conditions are high. It also helps rinse away bacteria from the mouth and the food particles that acid-producing oral bacteria feed on. When the mouth is dry, teeth are left unprotected. When there is little to no saliva, the minerals teeth require to continually stay healthy aren’t doing their job, and demineralization (minerals moving out of the teeth) occurs.
Additionally, many alcoholic beverages are themselves acidic, which is bad news for your biofilm. If your drink of choice is not inherently acidic, the alcoholic drinks can still cause the pH to drop in the mouth when consumed. Sipping a glass of wine or two over the course of a two hour meal will force the pH in your mouth to stay below the critical point of 5.5 for a long period of time, which makes cavity-causing bacteria very happy. The pH of beer and wine both sit around 3.2. Also, consider that sugary beverages have well-documented detrimental effects on tooth health. Those negative effects are worse when sugary drinks are sipped over a long period of time rather than consumed quickly. Unfortunately, many mixed drinks are high in sugary juice, sweetened soda, or even contain simple syrup, a fancy way of saying liquid sugar. And, people are likely to linger over an alcoholic beverage, sipping it slowly. While drinking slowly is good for your blood alcohol levels, it can be terrible for your tooth enamel.
How to Get Rid of Dry Mouth After Drinking Alcohol
Do you have to give up alcohol to avoid dry mouth? Not necessarily. While giving up drinking would be ideal for your oral and overall health, chances are good you will imbibe once in a while. In order to stave off dry mouth, try a few of these tips:
- Drink a glass of water between alcoholic beverages.
- Be mindful of how much sugar your drinks are adding to your daily consumption.
- Keep a pack of xylitol gum on hand to chew after you enjoy your drink.
- Or, keep a mouth-moistening spray on hand.
- Make sure to brush and rinse with elevated pH products when you get home after a fun evening out.
- Drink lots of water the next day.
There is no doubt having drinks with good friends is a lot of fun, but make sure to watch out for how your mouth feels the next day. If it is sticky and dry, make sure to add a few things to your routine to help protect those pearly whites!