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How Your General Health & Lifestyle Impacts Your Oral Health

Your everyday lifestyle, general health status, and choices can positively or negatively impact your oral health standing over time.

Your diet and the amount of alcohol you drink weekly can influence how healthy your mouth is. Whether or not you use tobacco products also impacts your dental health.

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Hormonal changes throughout life, such as during puberty and pregnancy, put you at a higher risk of developing serious oral conditions. Taking certain medications for health conditions (e.g. diabetes or cancer) or abusing drugs can also take a toll on your oral health.

All of the following factors can contribute to your oral health standing:

healthy diet

Nutrition and Your Oral Health

An unbalanced diet consisting of sugary foods, fast food, and other processed foods increases your risk of developing oral diseases over time. For example, sugar plays a direct role in the development of cavities. This is because the bacteria in plaque use sugar as energy and then release acid as a “waste product.” As a result, your enamel dissolves and cavities form.

Tooth decay progresses as you age, and the effects of sugar on the teeth are lifelong. In other words, eating unhealthy foods long-term results in more buildup of dental plaque and cavities. If left untreated, tooth loss and soft-tissue (gum) damage can also occur.

Studies show that there may be a way to minimize the risk of tooth decay if you limit added sugars to 5 percent of your total daily intake.

Natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products are not included in this percentage. Learn more about how your diet impacts your oral health.


Medications and Your Oral Health

Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can lead to uncomfortable and serious oral health conditions. In addition, chemotherapy can cause a variety of side effects. This includes—but is not limited to—dry mouth, cavities, gingivitis, periodontal disease, soft tissue reactions, mouth ulcers, and oral thrush.

Some medications (e.g. antidepressants and blood pressure medications) can cause dry mouth. In essence, dry mouth is a condition where the salivary glands in the mouth do not produce enough saliva. Without proper saliva production, your mouth cannot rinse out bacteria effectively, which may result in cavities. Learn more about which medications impact your dental health over time.


Alcohol Abuse and Your Oral Health

Long-term and excessive alcohol consumption negatively impacts your teeth and gums, which can result in serious dental conditions. For example, these conditions include enamel erosion, dry mouth, cavities, bruxism (teeth grinding), periodontal disease, mouth sores, and oral cancer.

Other minor conditions that may develop due to alcohol abuse include tooth discoloration and bad breath. Learn more about how alcohol abuse and addiction negatively affect your oral health.


Drug Abuse and Your Oral Health

Cavities and periodontal disease are more prevalent in drug addicts than in non-drug users. This is mainly due to the fact that addicts neglect regular dentist visits and therefore have more tartar (hardened plaque) on their teeth. In addition, the long-term use of illegal drugs (e.g. amphetamines, cocaine, and opiates) commonly results in serious oral health complications.

These conditions include oral cancer, cavities, gum disease, mouth sores, teeth grinding, and dry mouth. In more severe cases, meth addicts can develop “meth mouth.” This condition can result in rotten teeth, cracked teeth, permanent gum damage, and eventually tooth loss. Learn more about how drugs can severely damage your oral health.

smoking cigarette

Tobacco Products and Your Oral Health

Tobacco and nicotine are harmful substances in cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical that is responsible for 480,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. More than 16 million cigarette smokers suffer from smoking-related diseases, such as heart disease, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer.

Long-term tobacco and nicotine users commonly suffer from minor and serious oral health conditions. This includes—but is not limited to—bad breath, dry mouth, tooth discoloration, cavities, oral cancer, and silent gum disease.

Learn more about how nicotine and tobacco can negatively impact your oral health over time.


Diabetes and Your Oral Health

Diabetes impacts all parts of your body, including the mouth. This is because if you have high levels of glucose (sugar) in your saliva, harmful bacteria can grow faster. Over time, food particles and bacteria result in high levels of plaque (a sticky film that forms on teeth).

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to infections and pain affecting your teeth, gums, tongue, palate, jaw, cheeks, and/or the mouth’s floor. Learn which oral conditions commonly impact people with uncontrolled diabetes.


“Action on Sugar.” Sugars and Tooth Decay - Action on Sugar,

“Diabetes and Your Smile.” Mouth Healthy TM,

“CDC - Frequently Asked Questions - Alcohol.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Mar. 2018,

Palmer, Carole A., and Linda D. Boyd. Diet and Nutrition in Oral Health. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2016.

“Pregnancy and Oral Health Feature.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Feb. 2019,

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Updated on: December 16, 2020
Alyssa Hill
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Medically Reviewed
Photo of Lara Coseo
Dr. Lara Coseo
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