According to a new study published online first in the Journal of Periodontology, people who consume more alcohol are more likely to suffer worse gum disease, and even those without gum disease have worse gum health.
Analyzing Four Groups
In the study, researchers looked at 88 subjects who were divided into four groups:
- Alcohol-dependent with gum disease (ADP)
- Alcohol-dependent without gum disease (ADNP)
- Non-users or occasional users of alcohol with gum disease (NAP)
- Non-users or occasional users of alcohol without gum disease (NANP)
Alcohol dependency was defined as consuming four or more alcoholic drinks a week. Those who did not use alcohol at all or used it no more than once a month were considered nonusers or occasional users.
The Impact of Alcohol on Gum Disease
Researchers then looked at the periodontal status of these four groups. They found that the ADP group had the worst gum disease. This group had 15% of sites that had a probing depth of 4-6 mm (about ¼ inch) and 3.7% of sites with probing depth greater than 7 mm. Probing depth measures the amount of gum damage and indicates how much bone you might have lost around your teeth. For comparison, the NAP group had about 6.5% of sites with probing depth of 4-6 mm and 2.3% of sites with probing depth greater than 7 mm. Subjects without gum disease had less than 1% of sites with probing depth 4-6 mm and no sites with probing depth greater than 7 mm.
Alcohol users also had more plaque than non-users.
Understanding the Cause and Protecting Your Gums
Researchers in this study and elsewhere have proposed three mechanisms that contribute to the association of gum disease and alcohol use. First, alcohol has a drying effect on your gums and leads to overall dehydration. Since your saliva is your body’s best defense against oral bacteria, it makes sense that bacteria levels would increase with dehydration.
Alcohol also stimulates bacteria to make biofilms (plaque), which can protect them against removal by saliva and makes them harder to remove.
Finally, people who use alcohol more frequently may have poorer oral hygiene. This is more of an issue for people who use alcohol in excess, which includes the “alcohol-dependent” patients in this group, although certainly 4 drinks a week is not generally considered excessive.
If you want to protect your gums:
- Always maintain good oral hygiene
- Keep hydrated when drinking
- Make regular dental visits
- Consider reducing consumption if you have poor gum health
Following these recommendations should help keep your gums healthy and therefore help you keep your teeth.