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Researchers find that drinking may heighten periodontal disease risk factors, exacerbate existing periodontitis

In a study published ahead-of-print in the Journal of Periodontology, Brazilian researchers have found that consumption of alcoholic beverages can have a negative effect on the health of a person’s gums, aggravating an existing case of severe periodontal disease (also known as periodontitis) or raising periodontal disease risk factors. Previous research indicates that poor oral hygiene is a common trait in alcohol users, thus increasing drinkers’ susceptibility for developing periodontal disease.

Titled “Alcohol Consumption and Periodontitis: Quantification of Periodontal Pathogens and Cytokines,”the study assessed a sample of 542 regular alcohol users, occasional drinkers, and non-drinkers both with and without periodontitis. Researchers found that the severity of a regular alcohol user’s existing periodontitis correlated incrementally with the frequency of his or her alcohol consumption. These individuals were found to require additional periodontal treatment as well. Drinkers without periodontitis saw an increased incidence of gums that bled with gentle manipulation. Bleeding gums is a common symptom of periodontal disease.

“Although the topic of alcohol use and its effect on periodontal health requires further research, this report offers valuable insight on why we should care for our gums and teeth, especially if we might enjoy the occasional drink,” says Joan Otomo-Corgel, DDS, MPH, president of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), which publishes the Journal of Periodontology.

Researchers also evaluated the study subjects’ clinical attachment levels, which measure the depth of pockets created when gums pull away from the teeth, another symptom of periodontal disease. More frequently than the non-drinkers in the study, drinkers who did not have periodontitis presented clinical attachment levels of four millimeters or greater.  Periodontal pocket depths of three millimeters or more can be indicative of moderate-to-severe periodontal disease.

Among study participants, drinkers without periodontitis exhibited a higher presence of plaque than their non-drinking counterparts. Study researchers noted that alcohol’s drying effect on the mouth may contribute to the formation of plaque, a sticky bacterial layer comprised of than 500 microorganisms that can trigger an inflammatory response in the gums. “Alcohol slows the production of saliva, which helps neutralize the acids produced by plaque,” Dr. Otomo-Corgel says. “An accumulation of these acids can lead to the early stages of periodontal disease.”

Periodontal disease (also known as gum disease) affects one of every two Americans age 30 and older, rendering it 2.5 times more prevalent than diabetes. Research suggests periodontal disease may be linked to other systemic conditions, including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and cancer.

The AAP states that flossing regularly, brushing twice a day, and undergoing yearly comprehensive periodontal evaluations are essential to the prevention of periodontal disease, which is treatable and often reversible with proper and timely care from a periodontist.

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

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