Dentist’s message: Alcohol harms mouth as much as the rest of the body

24 September 2020

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 prefered 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 Australian Government Department of Health

To interview Prof. McCullough, contact Australian Dental Association Federal Media 
Advisor Jenny Barlass on 0484 869 086.
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