When consumed in moderation, there are health benefits associated with alcohol. The Mayo Clinic reports that moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the odds of developing heart disease including heart attack, may potentially minimize the risks of stroke, lower the chances of getting gallstones and potentially lower the risk of developing diabetes. However, too much liquor can quickly destroy oral health and general wellbeing as individuals who consume too much liquor are at a higher risk for a myriad of dental woes. Excessive alcohol consumption may cause tooth erosion, dry mouth and up the odds of getting throat or mouth cancer.
Alcohol’s Harmful Effects on Oral Health
The main threat to your teeth and gums comes from the sugar content in alcohol which, when broken down in your mouth, creates an acidic breeding ground for bacteria and plaque.
Unlike tooth decay caused by dental plaque bacteria, tooth erosion is a direct attack by the chemicals found in acidic foods and drinks, including liquor. Dental erosion results from continuously low pH levels in the mouth and alcohol is a major contributor to the imbalance.
Liquor consumption will dehydrate a person making alcohol the worst option for quenching thirst. Courtesy of dehydration, the lack of water can increase the chances of a person developing dry mouth. Dry mouth is generally attributed to a lack of saliva production and saliva (98 percent water, 2 percent other compounds) is a body’s natural defense for washing away harmful dental plaque.
The Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) has reported that for every hour of every day, someone in this country loses his or her battle with mouth cancer. Alcohol consumption is considered to be one of the biggest causes of the disease. Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the production of oral squamous cell carcinoma. Those cells are responsible for 90 percent of all mouth cancer cases and researchers believe that alcohol can irritate the mouth’s mucus lining and create a perfect haven for the cancerous cell growth.
Unexpected Sources of Alcohol We Consume
There can be ingestible alcohol hiding in our medicine cabinet and kitchen. Let’s explore some of those hidden sources of alcohol.
Alcohol in Medicine
Some medicines contain alcohol. The concentration is usually low. But this must be taken into account when too much medicine is taken. Some of the effects seen could be due to the alcohol and not the medicine.
Over The Counter Medicines: Medicines that come in liquid forms are the ones likely to contain alcohol, and the volume of alcohol can range from as low as 1 percent to as high as 25 percent in night-time cold remedies. While any liquid medicine labeled “elixir” by definition contains alcohol, most are not quite that easy to identify. Besides cough syrups, other liquid medicines used in treating cold, allergy and flu symptoms can contain alcohol, including antihistamines, decongestants, liquid forms of fever reducer and pain reliever, expectorants and the like.
Widely-Used Cold, Flu and Allergy Medications: These include liquid Theraflu, Tylenol Cold and Flu, Anti-Tuss DM Expectorant, Benedryl, Benedryl Decongestant, Cheracol, Contact Severe Cold, Dimetapp, Dristan Cough, Dristan Ultra, Formula 44 and Formula 44 D, Nyquil, Pertussin, Robitussin AS, Robitussin CF, Robitussin DAC, Robitussin PE, Robitussin DM, Sudafed Cough Syrup, Cotylenol, Novahistine Cough, Novahistine Cough and Cold, Novahistine DM, Novahistine DMX, Triaminic Expectorant, Vicks Cough, Wal-Act and Wal-Phed.
Alcohol in Food
While it was once thought that all the alcohol added to dishes burned off in the cooking process, since alcohol evaporates at 172 F, research by the United States Department of Agriculture found that foods do retain alcohol after most cooking processes. Although the amounts are often minute, many prepared foods do contain some alcohol.
Packaged Food: You would be surprised at the number of packaged and already cooked foods that contain small amounts of alcohol, including many specialty foods found in delicatessen or gourmet shops. Pure vanilla and almond extract, and some brands of Dijon mustard are examples. Marinara sauce with wine, whipped cream and even fruit cake can all pose problems.
Meats Cooked with Alcohol: Meats prepared with alcohol added at the end of the cooking time retain 85 percent of the alcohol, the USDA reports. Typical examples of dishes made with added alcohol include veal Marsala, made with Marsala wine added in the last few minutes of cooking. Other examples of foods cooked with alcohol include marinated meats and stews. While cooking for a longer time does eliminate more alcohol, foods marinated in alcohol retain 70 percent of the alcohol content. It takes 2.5 hours of simmering to reduce the alcohol content down to 5 percent in stews, according to the USDA.
Sauces: Many sauces for meats and heavy pasta dishes are made with alcohol. This can include glazes for meats, such as a whiskey-based chicken glaze or port wine reduction sauces that commonly accompany pork, beef or pasta dishes. Meats are often marinated in alcohol-based marinades, because alcohol can help break down the meats and make them more tender. Other popular dishes include chicken or sirloin marsala, chicken piccata and various risottos.
Cooking Extracts: Most kitchens will have vanilla extract. It might surprise you to know that pure vanilla extract contains 35-45% alcohol. This is almost as much as vodka. Lemon, orange, and mint extracts contain up to 90% alcohol. Desserts such as cookies made with vanilla extract baked for 15 minutes still retain 40 percent of their alcohol content. Pies and cakes cooked for 60 minutes retain 25 percent of their original alcohol content.
Regular Check-ups Guard Against Alcohol Related Issues
A dentist can detect alcohol-related dental problems and work aggressively to treat the issues. In regards to mouth cancer, a skilled dentist has the ability to pick up the symptoms during the earliest stages.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, University of Maryland, LiveStrong.com