Excessive Drinking Harms Oral Health

PARSIPPANY — People most often associate the health risks of excessive alcohol drinking with damage to the liver or stomach lining. But during Alcohol Awareness Month, Delta Dental of New Jersey warns that alcohol abuse can also prove harmful to oral health.

At Eva’s Village, a social service organization for the poor and homeless based in Paterson, Delta Dental of New Jersey Foundation funds a dental clinic where the effects of alcohol abuse are noticeable during dental exams.

There are regular alcohol addiction treatment facilities in your city, but if you are going treatment for alcoholism in some very upscale locations, you should be prepared to shoulder the higher than usual cost for it.

“There seems to be a direct correlation to the length of substance abuse and dental decline,” said Brian Ullmann, D.D.S., a prosthodontist and volunteer dentist at the clinic. “It is the norm to find missing teeth, decayed teeth, abscessed teeth, and a serious level of periodontal disease. It is also remarkable to realize the level of dental pain and suffering many of the patients must have had to endure during their years of addiction. Eliminating pain and creating pleasing smiles are two of the most rewarding services offered by the volunteers at the clinic.”

Heavy alcohol consumption also is a risk factor for oral cancer. It is estimated that each year in the United States there will be more than 30,000 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed and about one person every hour will die from this disease. According to the American Cancer Society about 70 percent of oral cancer patients consume alcohol frequently.

Tobacco smoking (i.e., cigarette, pipe or cigar smoking), particularly when combined with heavy alcohol consumption, has been identified as the primary risk factor for approximately 75 percent of oral cancers in the U.S. Using tobacco with alcohol poses a much greater risk than ingesting either substance alone. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are approximately 17.6 million adults who are alcoholics or have alcohol problems

People with alcohol problems also tend to neglect other healthy habits like eating properly or taking care of daily hygiene. A small 2003 study conducted at an alcohol rehabilitation center found that residents had a higher incidence of periodontal (gum) disease and cavities.

Drinking, like most other things, is best done in moderation for both your oral and overall health and well being. Some epidemiological studies suggest a heart protective association for low-to-moderate average alcohol consumption. Indeed, sipping alcoholic beverages like red wine (which contain heart-healthy antioxidants like resveratrol) may be beneficial for lowering LDL cholesterol and helping prevent clogging of arteries.

“For a population who faces numerous barriers to access even the most basic primary care, the opportunity to receive free dental services is a rare chance to address the neglect caused by addiction, homelessness, or simple inability to pay,” said Marie Reger, executive director, Eva’s Village, Inc. “With a new smile, our clients are provided health, hope, and dignity and we thank Delta Dental for their many years of support for this special program.”

“Protect your oral and overall health by avoiding all tobacco products and drinking alcohol only in moderation,” added West Orange-based Andrew Greenberger, D.M.D., periodontist and participating Delta Dental dentist. “This will greatly reduce your risk for oral cancer, other oral problems, and a multitude of serious health conditions.”

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