Do I really need to brush my teeth again after a little bit of Scotch?
September 13, 2009 7:17 AM   Subscribe

I like to sip a little bit of Scotch before going to bed, spending a few quiet minutes with a single malt, my browser, and some good music. I usually do this after brushing my teeth, and I really, really dislike going back to brush my teeth again before going to bed (it totally kills the pleasant pre-sleep buzz). I'm not sure how much sugar is in Scotch, but is this practice likely to lead to cavities over the long term?
posted by zachawry to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm fairly certain that most hard liquor doesn't have any sugar in it, or at least, negligible amounts. I wouldn't worry about it.

On a side note, don't you wake up with a nasty taste in your mouth? If not, I'm jealous, I have to virtually sandblast my teeth every night so I don't wake up with dog breath.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:29 AM on September 13, 2009

Aside from the sugar content, alcohol itself can erode tooth enamel and cause decay in heavy drinkers, and letting it sit on your teeth all night really can't help.
posted by Fifi Firefox at 7:33 AM on September 13, 2009

I suspect any ill effect of the tiny amounts of sugar are balanced by the antibacterial properties of the alcohol.
On preview: maybe so, but most tooth decay is caused by a small range of bacterial agents so again a cost benefit analysis is needed.
posted by Rumple at 7:36 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, all the sugar has been converted into alcohol, so don't spoil that lovely off-to-sleep moment with unnecessary brushing.

(see what I did there?)
posted by briank at 7:36 AM on September 13, 2009

Who says? Alcohol is a primary ingredient in many mouthwash formulations. Can you provide a link to back that up, Fifi? *Acid* decays tooth enamel.

Having a drink of scotch does not let alcohol "sit on your teeth all night." Alcohol evaporates very, very quickly.

And sugar becomes alcohol in distilled spirits, so don't worry about sugar.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:38 AM on September 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised you can taste the scotch at all after brushing your teeth. Every toothpaste I've ever used has left my mouth tasting like mint.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:40 AM on September 13, 2009

I just remember hearing that from my aunt, who's a dentist, so here are a couple of quick references I found from Googling (there are many more). Skimming these, it's not *entirely* clear whether the damage is from the alcohol itself or a general lifestyle, but doesn't seem worth the risk if you can prevent it by 30 seconds with a toothbrush.
posted by Fifi Firefox at 7:41 AM on September 13, 2009

Many people gargle with an alcohol mouthwash after brushing their teeth and before going to bed.

This is really no different. The ingredients that give whiskey its flavor (and distinguish it from mouthwash, although some people say strong single malts taste like mouthwash run through dirt!) are not likely to harm your oral health, any more than the colorings in mouthwash formulations.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:43 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's more sugar in most toothpastes than in scotch.

The downside of alcohol (whether the drinkin' variety or mouthwash) is that it dries your mouth out, depriving it of saliva that usually deters bacteria. But your saliva production is probably near-nil while sleeping, anyway. And if this really worries you, have a drink of water before bed to re-hydrate.
posted by rokusan at 7:47 AM on September 13, 2009

I seem to remember that people during the gold rush brushed their teeth with whiskey. On the other hand, that isn't a ringing endorsement of oral hygiene.
posted by acrasis at 7:49 AM on September 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Eh, I read further into some of the studies, and it probably won't hurt you if you're not a heavy drinker. Sorry, I responded based on years of general over-zealous tooth-brushing lectures (and never questioned my aunt).

I'd still maintain that it's a little icky, but probably won't actually hurt you.
posted by Fifi Firefox at 7:51 AM on September 13, 2009

According to my dentist, it takes longer than overnight for the bacteria to form that cause cavities. So even if you occasionally eat a candy bar before bed and then don't brush, as long as you brush when you get up, you're probably fine. Think about it-- do you brush after every meal (yes, I know you're supposed to. But do you)? If you're not forming cavities between breakfast and bedtime from not brushing, then why would you be forming them overnight. (Also, have you noticed poorer dental health since starting this practice?)
posted by nax at 7:53 AM on September 13, 2009

I think knocking down a glass of water afterwards would help a bit. Not sure but can't hurt. A little swishing would be good.
posted by sully75 at 7:57 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

As others have I was wondering how you get the taste of the scotch over the taste of the toothpaste once you have brushed your teeth. Are you basically brushing then washing your mouth out such that all trace of toothpase is gone? According to my dentist this is sub-optimal in terms of benefits to your oral health, apparently one is not supposed to finish by washing out one's mouth with water any more.
posted by biffa at 7:58 AM on September 13, 2009

This is a bit tangential, but if you guys tried a less standard toothpaste like the Tom's of Maine line you might find that you are able to rinse the taste out of your mouth after brushing. They're not as strongly flavored or sweetened.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:45 AM on September 13, 2009

Just drink some water before you fall asleep. Maybe do a little swish if you're worried. If you otherwise keep good dental hygiene, a drop of whisky isn't going to ruin your teeth.

If you want to be slightly more scientific about it, go to your dentist for a checkup. Henceforth, commence drinking your whisky without brushing your teeth afterward. Go for follow-up checkup in six months. Ask your hygienist and dentist if there is any noticeable change in your oral health.
posted by desuetude at 8:57 AM on September 13, 2009

I'd be concerned about stains on teeth because of the Scotch. Not sure if it's a valid concern, but I'd still worry about it.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 9:39 AM on September 13, 2009

If you're worried about it, you can keep some disposable toothbrushes in your nightstand, with a garbage near your bed. Do a quick swipe around in your mouth without getting out of bed and voila.
posted by sickinthehead at 10:18 AM on September 13, 2009

I actually enjoy the taste of scotch after brushing my teeth. I also brush with Tom's of Maine toothpaste.

Sorry, I know it isn't an answer, but there may never come another time when I can admit to these things!
posted by orme at 4:07 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I remember reading in a men's health magazine ages ago that brushing you teeth without toothpaste, and just letting the saliva froth up do all the hard work, is good for your teeth. Of course, this was in conjunction with brushing your teeth with toothpaste. I can't find any references on the net, but I'm sure there was some scientific evidence for it working.

So, as sickinthehead said, it might be worth investing in some disposable toothbrushes and using them without paste to leave those pleasant peaty flavours in your cakehole.
posted by hnnrs at 4:36 PM on September 13, 2009

To those who wonder how I can drink some Scotch immediately after brushing my teeth...I don't. There is at least an hour or two in between the two activities.

And, thank you all for being my enablers!! :)
posted by zachawry at 5:21 PM on September 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

1. As I understand it, it's the bacteria (plaque) that rot your teeth, not the alcohol or even the sugar. So as long as you brush twice a day, eating a huge candy bar right before bed would probably be fine.

2. Even if sugar rotted your teeth, you salivate all night, and if you drank a coke right before bed it's not like you would have coke on your teeth all night.

3. Scotch is probably no worse for your teeth than toothpaste or mouthwash.

4. Don't try this with Laphroaig, you won't like your breath in the morning. Trust me.
posted by mmoncur at 11:06 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

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