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Raise a (Nonalcoholic) Glass to Oral Health

Written by Consumer Guide to Dentistry   Last modified on May 4, 2018

Drinking a glass of red wine every day has been linked with positive health benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Reports documenting these findings always include the moderation caveat that is sometimes referred to as the ‘Goldilocks’ caveat. (Excessive consumption of alcohol is linked with serious health effects.) However, a new study published in Microbiome suggests that while one glass of red wine drank daily might have some positive general health effects, it might actually increase your risk for oral health problems.

The mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria. More than 700 different types of bacteria live in the mouth, some of which are beneficial for oral health. In fact, good microbes can stave off harmful germs and safeguard health.

By contrast, harmful bacteria in the mouth is a leading cause of gum disease and tooth decay.

Alcohol and Oral Bacteria

The study involved a group of healthy people ranging from 55 to 87 years old. Of the 1,044 participants, 270 identified as nondrinkers, 614 as moderate drinkers, and 160 as heavy drinkers. Researchers requested detailed information related to the participants’ diet, drinking and lifestyle habits, in addition to a saliva sample to measure the bacteria.

Researchers noted that those who identified as nondrinkers had far less harmful bacteria in their mouths compared with the drinkers. Although the study was not able to pinpoint a threshold level (I.e. at what point does alcohol consumption tip the balance of good vs. bad bacteria in the mouth), the heavier the level of alcohol consumption, the greater the amount of bad bacteria.

Excessive alcoholic consumption is already known to increase risk of serious chronic diseases, but this new study suggests that the risks could be even greater than previously thought given the oral health implications. Oral health disease like gum disease and tooth decay also increase the risk for general health issues (check out our slideshow on 6 serious health conditions linked to gum disease), which means that people who drink alcohol could be compounding their risk factors.

That said, it’s important to keep in mind that this is one study, and that there are many unanswered questions that could yield more information.

Further Study Needed

A key element that is missing from this initial study is what role poor hygiene practices play versus the alcohol itself. For example, a night of heavy drinking could end without the brushing of teeth. Additional study could zero in on this aspect of drinking to determine if there is a safe consumption threshold similar to the single glass of red a day for general health.

Similarly, the study didn’t take into account alcohol-based mouthwashes, which may contain 10 to 20 percent of alcohol. Although the impact of mouthwash might seem minimal, it could nonetheless influence the oral environment for drinkers and nondrinkers alike.

We suggest you take this study with a grain of salt until further information is available. Alcohol isn’t the only thing that can alter your oral environment. Everything from foods to cigarettes, to nonalcoholic sugar-laden drinks, to your hormones can impact your oral health.

Which brings us back to moderation. Be considerate of your oral health, and be aware of the habits you have and the impact it can have on the bacteria in your mouth. Protect your smile to protect your health. And that’s something we can all raise a glass to.