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Alcohol Abuse Linked to Poor Oral Health



When it comes to your oral health, the number of outside factors can determine whether or not you enjoy strong teeth and gums. The mouth acts as a gateway to the body, so it shouldn’t be surprising that what goes on inside the body can manifest itself through a person’s oral health.

While it remains circumstantial, some evidence suggests that individuals with gum disease have a higher risk of developing heart disease. Research has also shown that individuals with diabetes may be predisposed to developing gum disease.

Now research suggests that individuals who deal with alcohol abuse problems have an increased risk of dealing with gum disease, tooth decay, and precancerous oral lesions, according to a study conducted by the American Association for Dental Research.

Study Findings

Researchers at the AADR asked 34 study participants, 24 men and 10 women, who were at the time enrolled in a rehabilitation center for alcohol abuse to provide information about their oral hygiene habits and lifestyle behaviors, Researchers then had the study participants undergo an oral health examination to determine the current state of their teeth and gums.

Each participant’s oral health was assessed based on the prevalence of dental plaque in the mouth; inflammation of the gums from periodontal disease; the number of decayed, missing, or cavity-filled teeth, number of teeth that showed signs of enamel loss; and an oral examination of the palate, cheeks, and tongue for any oral lesions.

Upon completion of the examinations, 85 percent of study participants had their oral health rated as either “fair” or “poor.” Of the group, 82 percent were suffering from moderate-to-severe inflammation of the gums, and over two-thirds had developed a heavy buildup of plaque on their teeth and gums.

Not surprisingly considering the presence of so much plaque, the health of the participants’ teeth was not much better. Exams showed that 15 percent were missing teeth, and of the teeth remaining for those participants, 41 percent showed serious signs of enamel decay. Of all the participants, 79 percent had at least one tooth with a cavity, with the average number of cavities in the mouth at 3.2 per person.

Even more serious, however, was the number of study participants who showed signs of precancerous oral lesions. Over one-third of those examined had lesions that offered the potential of becoming cancerous in the future. This number far exceeds the incident rate of the general population, according to researchers.

Possible Explanation

Researchers believe part of the reason behind these startlingly high numbers is the fact that individuals who suffer from abuse issues are less likely to pay attention to their personal habits, such as tending to their oral hygiene, than individuals who are not suffering from substance abuse.

Alcohol also contains high levels of sugar. When consumed, sugar causes plaque to produce harmful acids that eat away at tooth enamel. Over time this leads to tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease. By failing to practice proper oral hygiene, individuals suffering from alcohol abuse allow plaque to buildup on their teeth.

The more plaque present in the mouth, the more acid it produces, and the greater the dental decay that occurs.

Researchers concluded that the evidence from this study suggests that individuals suffering from substance abuse are in great need of interventions in order to help them protect their oral health. Due to the link between oral health and other serious chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and stroke, this needs to become a public health issue, according to researchers.