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Dentist’s message in a bottle: Think before you Drink

Alcohol harms your mouth as much as the rest of your body

Having a couple of glasses of wine at home every evening may sound harmless during these troubled times – but the nation’s pandemic drinking habits are potenially setting us up for serious oral health issues down the track.

The trend is unmasking the possibility of a range of mouth-related health issues including oral cancers, tooth decay and gum disease from a regular supply of alcohol every day.

Yet few people make the link and this is where the problem lies, says the Australian Dental Association (ADA).

A number of potentially problematic alcohol use behaviours during COVID-19 were recorded in a recent FARE (Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education) survey, including nearly one in seven (13%) Australian drinkers being concerned about the amount of alcohol they or someone in their household is drinking, 11% reported drinking to cope with anxiety and stress and 14% reported that they’ve been drinking daily.

In addition, consumer spending data on alcohol indicates 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 Professor Michael McCullough from the University of Melbourne and 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 Prof. McCullough.

“There’s a multiplication effect for those who also smoke, to around 15-fold.”

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

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

“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.”

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 285ml glass of full-strength beer, a 375ml mid strength can or bottle of beer, and a 100ml glass of red or white wine. For more on what a standard drink looks like, go to: www.health.gov.au/health-topics/alcohol/about-alcohol/standard-drinks-guide

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