Alcohol and your oral health

Drinking too much alcohol is widely known to increase the risk of serious health conditions such as liver and heart disease. But experts from the Oral Health Foundation also want to raise awareness of how drinking alcohol can affect your mouth.

According to the charity, one new study shows how just one alcoholic drink a day can change the balance of bacteria in your mouth. And that, they add, can lead to a range of health problems, including gum disease, tooth decay and even certain types of cancer.

By testing the saliva samples of 1,000 adults, researchers writing in the journal Microbiome found those who had one or more alcoholic drinks a day had less healthy bacteria and more harmful bacteria in their mouths.

“There are hundreds of different types of bacteria in the mouth and they all play a highly significant role in a person’s wellbeing,” explains Oral Health Foundation chief executive Dr Nigel Carter.

“These bacteria are finely balanced and important for maintaining everything from the immune system and how the body deals with pollution in the environment, to protecting the teeth and gums and aiding with digestion after eating and drinking.

“The bacterial imbalance from drinking alcohol can cause serious problems in the mouth, such as gum disease, as well as increase the risk of head and neck cancer and heart disease.”

What’s your tipple?

The study also looked at how different types of alcoholic drinks affect bacteria in the mouth. It discovered that drinking wine produces more bacteria responsible for gum disease when compared to non-drinkers, while beer drinkers produce more of the type of bacteria that’s linked to dental decay.

The researchers also discovered that any alcohol consumption reduces the amount of bacteria that boost oral health by reducing the risk of tooth decay.

“A number of high-profile studies have previously pointed to the dangers around drinking alcohol to excess, but this research offers an additional cause for concern,” Dr Carter explains.

“It is therefore important to be aware of the effects that even moderate alcohol consumption can have on oral and overall health, if drinking is sustained over a prolonged period of time.”

Drinking moderately is the best way to protect yourself against alcohol-related disease. Current guidelines state that you should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week on a regular basis (regular drinking means drinking alcohol most weeks). A unit of alcohol is 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about half a pint of normal-strength lager or a single measure of spirits (a small glass of wine – 125ml – contains about 1.5 units).

The NHS also suggests spreading those 14 units of alcohol evenly over three or more days. And if you’re trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, try to have several alcohol-free days each week.

Dr Carter also offers the following advice: always brush your teeth before bed if you’ve been drinking alcohol, as this may help stop bad bacteria from building up overnight.

Your local Careway pharmacist can also give you tips if you’re trying to cut down on alcohol or if you need advice on looking after your oral health.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.