Moderate alcohol consumption (especially red wine) can be good for your teeth and gums, but too much can make gum disease worse, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Periodontology, which shows that people who are dependent on alcohol have worse receding gums than those who aren’t.
Finding the Effects of Alcohol on Receding Gums
This study divided its 88 subjects into four groups:
- Alcohol-dependent with periodontal disease (designated ADP)
- Alcohol-dependent without periodontal disease (ADNP)
- Non-users or occasional users of alcohol with periodontal disease (NAP)
- Non-users or occasional users of alcohol without periodontal disease (NANP)
It’s worth noting that the definition of alcohol dependence used in this study is different from what you might expect. People were defined as being “alcohol-dependent” if they used alcohol four or more times a week. In contrast, most definitions of alcohol dependence refer to an inability to function without alcohol, impairment of normal life functions, withdrawal symptoms, and increasing use of alcohol over time.
Nonetheless, even a small consumption of alcohol appeared, in this study, to contribute significantly to gum disease and receding gums.
The Impact of Alcohol on Gum Disease
Researchers measured the impact of alcohol use on gum disease in several ways. They measured:
- The presence of certain bacteria associated with gum disease
- The release of chemical signals indicating gum disease
- The probing depth around the teeth
- Clinical attachment level around the teeth
They found that certain bacteria were found much more often in alcohol users than in people that didn’t use alcohol, including Prevotella intermedia, Eikenella corrodens, and Fusobacterium nucleatum (which you may–or may not–remember as the gum disease bacterium that fosters cancer).They also found that people who used alcohol had higher levels of inflammatory chemical signals.
Probing depth and clinical attachment level are direct measures of the amount of receding gums. Probing depth indicates how far a small metal probe can fit between your gums and teeth. In this study, the number of places where probing depth was 4-6 mm (about ¼ inch) was highest among the ADP group, alcohol users with gum disease, at about 15%. They also had the most places where probing depth was 7mm or greater, at 3.7%. For comparison, the NAP group, which had gum disease but didn’t use alcohol, had 6.5% of sites at 4-6 mm, and only 2.3% of sites at 7mm or greater.
Clinical attachment level refers to where the gums are attaching to your teeth relative to the cementoenamel junction (CEJ). Not to be confused with Petticoat Junction, the CEJ is the clinical definition of where your tooth roots begin, so clinical attachment level measures how much of your tooth roots are exposed. In this study, people in the ADP group had 16% clinical attachment levels 4mm or more below the CEJ, compared to only 7.2% of sites for those in the NAP group.
Preventing and Repairing Receding Gums
If you are a regular alcohol user and want to prevent receding gums, there are some things you can do.
First, one of the most likely mechanisms for increased gum disease is dehydration. Make sure you aren’t getting dehydrated when you drink. Intersperse alcoholic drinks with water to keep your hydration levels up.
Second, some people aren’t good about oral hygiene when they’re drinking. Even if you have been out on a bender, try to brush and floss.
Make sure you are making your dental checkups so that we can assess your gum disease risk and stop it from getting worse.
Finally, if you are developing gum disease, consider cutting back on alcohol consumption until we get your gum disease under control.
If you have already suffered receding gums related to gum disease, remember that a gum graft can restore your gums to a healthy, attractive level.