Drinking alcohol may foster bad mouth bacteria

Avatar By Joseph Scalise | 2 years ago

Researchers from New York University found that heavy drinking may fill a person’s mouth with harmful bacteria, according to a new study published in the journal Microbiome.

In the study, scientists analyzed spit samples from more than 1,000 healthy volunteers between the ages of 55 and 84. Beyond that, they also asked the participants about their regular eating habits, including how much alcohol they consumed.

The team  then used a form of RNA sequencing to analyze the microbiome in each volunteer’s mouth. They found a strong link between drinking alcohol and a higher abundance of bacteria that often leads to gum disease. They also found drinking is correlated with lower amounts of Lactobacillales, which generate good oral health.

Regular drinkers also had higher levels of bacteria from the genus Neisseria, some of which can produce the carcinogen acetaldehyde. While no study has linked the organisms to cancer, it is another concern.

“Such changes potentially contribute to alcohol-related diseases, including periodontal disease, head and neck cancer, and digestive tract cancers, but further research is needed to relate alcohol-related composition changes to disease phenotypes,” wrote the team in their research, according to Gizmodo.

Researchers believe there is a chance alcohol could alter the mouth biome by killing off key immune cells, damaging teeth, or significantly altering the composition of saliva. However, nobody knows to what degree these microbial changes are the result of drinking alone. 

Even so, this is the largest study to look at the way alcohol affects the human mouth microbiome. Such research could give insight into how alcohol increases the risk of certain mouth diseases and expand general knowledge of human health.

“We know that alcohol is a risk factor for many other diseases,” said study co-author Jiyoung Ahn, an epidemiologist at the New York University School of Medicine, according to TIME. “This is another scientific rationale, or justification, that heavy drinking is not recommended. We should avoid heavy drinking in terms of maintaining a healthy microbiome.”