Increased Alcohol Use May Impact Oral Health During the Pandemic

Dentistry Today


Alcohol consumption appears to be increasing Down Under, according to the Australian Dental Association (ADA), which is concerned that these increases may have a significant negative impact on the nation’s rates of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral cancer.

A recent survey by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education found that 13% of drinkers were concerned about the amount of alcohol that they or someone in their household were consuming during the pandemic. Also, 11% reported drinking to cope with anxiety and stress, 14% said they were drinking daily. 

Also, the ADA said, consumer spending data on alcohol indicates that there have been significant increases in packaged liquor sales since the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns in Australia, particularly for online sales and home delivery.

Coupled with high rates of tooth decay and increased sugar consumption, it’s yet another assault on the nation’s mouths, said Michael McCullough of oral medicine at the University of Melbourne and member of the ADA’s Specialist Working Group.

“Strong evidence shows that long-term high levels of alcohol consumption alone increases the risk of oral cancer by about four-fold,” said McCullough. “There’s a multiplication effect for those who also smoke to around fifteen-fold.”

Early diagnosis of oral cancer is key to diminish the morbidity and mortality of oral cancer, the ADA said. Any changes in the mouth and any ulcers, lumps, bumps, or areas that have changed in color and persisted for more than two weeks should be examined by a dentist, the ADA said.

“Over four people each day are diagnosed with oral cancer in Australia, and the five-year survival is only about 60%,” McCullough said.

“Irrespective of what level of COVID lockdowns prevail across Australia, anyone should be examined by a dentist if they’re concerned about changes in their mouth that have been persisting,” he said.

“An examination of troubling areas of the mouth could make an enormous difference to longevity and quality of life. However, prevention is much preferred with drinking in moderation and smoking cessation being key,” he said.

Australian Department of Health guidelines stipulate that to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury for healthy men and women, 10 standard drinks per week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day is the maximum. A standard drink is a 285-ml glass of full-strength beer, a 375-ml mid-strength can or bottle of beer, or a 100-ml glass of red or white wine.

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