A lot of contradictory information floats about the Internet regarding how beer actually affects the teeth. Is it good or bad for oral health? In September of 2012, USA Today and WNDU reported the story of a woman who was hit in the face with a case of Natural Light Beer during a brawl, only blocks from the Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. The report stated that she lost her entire bottom row of teeth. In her case, I would have to agree that beer was not good for her teeth.
We have no way of knowing whether the fight broke out due to the effects of beer, as in “loose lips sink ships,” or as the consequence of being the closest tool the brawling Neanderthals could find. But beware of the lubricating effects of too much beer on your wagging tongue. Statements about another’s mother can cause tooth damage pretty quickly.
The Common Sense Side of Tooth Damage
Teeth can also be damaged when used as an implement for opening beer bottles or cans. Although there are numerous videos on Hulu or Vimeo showing how to sacrifice your teeth to beer, your mama and daddy paid a lot of cash for braces when you were a teen, so show some respect and don’t risk chipping those pearly whites.
Speaking of pearly whites, beer can stain the teeth – particularly those darker beers that are crafted with roasted barley or black patent malt. If the beer is a style that has been aged on fruit such as cherries, black currants, or raspberries, it can also wash the teeth with staining agents that occur naturally. Over the long term, your teeth can take on significant staining that may appear gray, blue, or yellow.
If you drink beer regularly, those stains can make you look much older than you are. They also can give the impression that you have poor dental hygiene, even if you brush and floss regularly. Spend the money to get those teeth whitened, and use a whitening toothpaste. One cautionary note to prevent re-staining of the teeth: For 24 to 48 hours after getting the teeth whitened, stay away from beer, wheat, colored toothpaste, and colored mouthwash. Eat and drink a white diet, low in fat and acids. Don’t smoke for those two days, either. It will spare you the disappointment of regression to stains.
Might I mention green beer? As St. Patty’s Day rolls around in March, you may be celebrating the wearin’ of the green. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware created a green beer with an algae called spirulina, but most beer bars color macro-lagers with green food coloring. Beware! Your teeth will take on a Leprechaunish shade of green after just a few gulps. Unless your company is running a campaign on Bright Green Environmentalism, green teeth could be frowned upon in the workplace, so avoid it and drink Irish Stout.
Bad Choices Lead to Tooth Damage
The acids in beer can attack the enamel on your teeth in a process called demineralization. This loss of tooth enamel starts at a pH of 5.5, but can occur at higher pH levels, given the right circumstances. Note: the lower the pH level the more acidic the beer.
Darker malts have more natural acidity. The pH in beer varies, with the average craft beer having a range somewhere between 5.4-5.8. Sour beers, such as Rodenbach Grand Cru, can be as low as 3.2-3.3 in the mash. If you think you are safer with soft drinks and juice, don’t be so presumptuous. The acid level in colas hovers around a pH of 2.5, grapefruit juice pH is around 3.0, and sherry wine clocks in around 3.37. Even a Vegetarian Diet can put you at risk. You could stick with cow’s milk at 6.4-6.8, but what fun is that?
Don’t drink to the point of gluttony. The acids in vomit really damage the teeth. Vomit has a pH of 2.0 and can go as low as 1.0 if you get to the point of projectile missiles.
The Bright Side of the Beer Spectrum
All this may sound really bad to you, but there is a bright side. Beer styles with a high level of barley and hops (craft beers that are barley based), are loaded with calcium and silicon, the soluble form of silica. Calcium and silicon strengthen bones, teeth, hair and nails. A study at the University of Iowa Dental School indicates that beer with high levels of calcium and phosphate inhibits the loss of minerals from the teeth.
Beer also contains tannins that are “good acids.” Research at the California School of Dentistry in Los Angeles concluded that tannins in beer are as effective as fluoride in prevent bacteria from sticking to tooth enamel.
Hops contain compounds that are bacteriostatic, fungistatic and anti-inflammatory; these compounds inhibit the growth of microorganisms in the mouth and act as a natural antibiotic.
When assessing the effect of beer on the teeth, weigh all the pros and cons. Remember that drinking beer in moderation is key to good tooth health, and that regular brushing and flossing is important, whether you are a beer drinker or not. Beers that are high in tannins and highly hopped are good for you, and craft beers made with barley malts are better for your bones than industrialized lagers made with corn or rice. Get your teeth whitened regularly for that fresh-mouth look, and keep that other “fresh-mouth” shut when you feel the urge to be confrontational. Smile for the Beer Fox!