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Say it ain’t so: Drinking alcohol may damage your gums

The more alcohol people drink, the worse off their gums may be, according to a new study. The research found that men and women who consume at least four alcoholic drinks per week had more plaque and worse gums than those who drink less frequently.

For the study, Brazilian researchers divided patients into groups based on how much alcohol they drank. Patients were considered “alcohol-dependent” if they drank alcohol at least four times per week, and they were considered a “nonuser or occasional alcohol user” if they drank alcohol less than monthly or didn’t drink at all.

The researchers found that the severity of a person’s gum disease correlated with the frequency of his or her alcohol consumption. Alcohol-dependent patients had more plaque and a higher severity of gum disease than those patients who drank less frequently.

They also found that alcoholic beverages worsened existing cases of gum disease and increased the chance that a person might develop gum disease. This was true even though the alcohol-dependent patients and those who were nonusers or occasional users had similar levels of smoking, education, and body mass.

Alcohol affects the mouth in various ways

Why did the heavier drinkers have worse oral hygiene? Alcohol has a drying effect on the mouth, which may trigger plaque formation and inflame the gums, according to the researchers. Inflamed gums can contribute to periodontal disease, another name for gum disease.

“Alcohol slows the production of saliva, which helps neutralize the acids produced by plaque,” explained Joan Otomo-Corgel, DDS, MPH, the president of the American Academy of Periodontology. “An accumulation of these acids can lead to the early stages of periodontal disease.”

The researchers also noted that alcohol users are more likely to have poor oral hygiene habits. But gum disease can be prevented easily, by adopting the following habits:

  • Brushing two times per day
  • Flossing frequently
  • Regularly visiting the dentist

Dr. Otomo-Corgel advised patients who do enjoy an occasional alcoholic beverage to be honest with their dentist, who can determine appropriate treatment and next steps.

“It can’t hurt to be proactive in a regular oral hygiene routine and to maintain good relationships with a dentist,” she said. “Additionally, it’s important for patients who have periodontal disease to see a periodontist and be honest about their drinking habits. This information can guide the periodontist in determining appropriate treatment and next steps.”

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