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One alcoholic drink a day ‘harms oral health’

Changes to bacteria can cause cancer and gum disease

Just one alcoholic drink a day changes the balance of bacteria in the mouth and can lead to a range of diseases from tooth decay to cancer, a study has revealed.

Scientists tested saliva samples from more than 1,000 adults and found that, compared to non-drinkers, those who had one or more alcoholic drinks per day saw a reduction of healthy bacteria in the mouth, with a significant increase of harmful bacteria also detected.

Such changes could contribute to alcohol-related diseases such as gum disease, tooth decay, head and neck cancer and digestive tract cancers, they warned.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, said bacteria in the mouth play a highly significant role in a person’s wellbeing.

“These bacteria are finely balanced and important for maintaining everything from the immune system and how the body deals with pollution in the environment, to protecting the teeth and gums and aiding with digestion after eating and drinking,” he added.

The study also found the type of alcohol consumed affects bacteria in the mouth.

Wine drinkers, for example, produce more bacteria responsible for gum disease when compared to non-drinkers, while beer drinkers produce an increase in bacteria that are linked to dental decay.

“A number of high profile studies have previously pointed to the dangers around drinking alcohol to excess but this research offers an additional cause for concern,” Carter said. “It is therefore important to be aware of the effects that even moderate alcohol consumption can have on oral and overall health, if drinking is sustained over a prolonged period of time.”