You Booze, You Lose: Excessive Drinking Harms Oral Health

People most often associate the health risks of excessive alcohol drinking with damage to the liver or stomach lining. But during Alcohol Awareness Month, Delta Dental warns that alcohol abuse can also prove harmful to oral health.

It is estimated that each year in the United States there will be more than 30,000 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed and about one person every hour will die from this disease.1  Heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor for oral cancer.* According to the American Cancer Society, about 70 percent of oral cancer patients consume alcohol frequently.Tobacco smoking (i.e., cigarette, pipe or cigar smoking), particularly when combined with heavy alcohol consumption, has been identified as the primary risk factor for approximately 75 percent of oral cancers in the U.S. Using tobacco with alcohol poses a much greater risk than ingesting either substance alone. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are approximately 17.6 million adults who are alcoholics or have alcohol problems.3 

People with alcohol problems also tend to neglect other healthy habits like eating properly or taking care of daily hygiene. A small 2003 study conducted at an alcohol rehabilitation center found that residents had a higher incidence of periodontal (gum) disease and cavities.4

Drinking, like most other things, is best done in moderation for both your oral and overall health and well-being. Some epidemiological studies suggest a heart protective association for low-to-moderate average alcohol consumption.5  Indeed, sipping alcoholic beverages like red wine (which contain heart-healthy antioxidants like resveratrol) may be beneficial for lowering LDL cholesterol and helping prevent clogging of arteries.6

*According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heavy drinking for men is typically defined as consuming an average of more than two drinks per day. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming an average of more than one drink per day.

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1 National Institutes of Health. NIH Fact Sheets. Oral Cancer – updated February 14, 2011. Accessed March 30, 2012. 

Blot WJ, McLaughlin JK, Winn DM, et al. Smoking and drinking in relation to oral and pharyngeal cancer. Cancer Res 1988;48:3282-7.

3 Medline Plus – Alcoholism http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/alcoholism.html. Accessed March 30, 2012.

4 Araujo MW, Dermen K, Connors G, Ciancio S. Oral and dental health among inpatients in treatment for alcohol use disorders: a pilot study. J Int Acad Periodontol. 2004 Oct;6(4):125-30.

5 Di Minno MN, Franchini M, Russolillo A, Lupoli R, Iervolino S, Di Minno G. Alcohol dosing and the heart: updating clinical evidence. Semin Thromb Hemost. 2011 Nov;37(8):875-84. Epub 2011 Dec 23.

6 Wu JM, Hsieh TC. Resveratrol: a cardioprotective substance. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2011 Jan;1215:16-21.

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