Alcohol – How it Affects Your Oral Health

2 min

Consuming alcohol can be detrimental to once mind, body and soul. Your oral cavity is at high risk when you take a sip of alcohol. In this article, we will see all the fine points on how consuming alcohol affects your oral health.

Alcohol is branched into 3 groups namely methanol, ethanol & propanol. Methanol and propanol are highly toxic and prohibited for consumption whereas ethanol in combination with water & glucose is the basic composition for alcohol-based beverages.

Profuse consumption of alcohol causes gum disease, tooth decay, mouth sores & oral cancer. Alcohol abuse is the 2nd most common risk factor for oral cancer.

Alcohol abuse happens as a result of drinking beyond limits on an occasion leading to risky behavior and poor judgment. A very high quantity of alcohol at a single occasion might lead to breathing difficulty, coma or death.


The consumption of alcohol beyond limits can cause dehydration leading to decreased salivary secretion and dryness of the mouth.

The absence of saliva to regulate the bacterial flora plays a key role in the accumulation of plaque and shift in the oral bacterial flora with increased anaerobes.

Gum diseases and teeth caries occurs as a result of the above mechanism.

The alteration or shift in the microbial flora due to alcohol consumption causes the change in pH into acidic due to bacterial activity to breakdown the accumulated debris in the mouth.

Sulfur is released in breakdown resulting in bad breath and oral sore/ulcers.

Ethanol does not have any direct carcinogenic effect on the oral mucosa but the first metabolite of ethanol – acetaldehyde is known as a mutagenic and carcinogenic substance.

Acetaldehyde plays a major role in carcinogenesis.

The metabolism of alcohol occurs outside the liver in three different sites namely the gastric mucosa (stomach & duodenum), the esophageal mucosa (food pipe) and the oral mucosa (mouth).

Thus making the three sites more prone to cancer associated with alcohol consumption.

The key enzymes playing the roles are alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).

During the metabolism of alcohol and acetaldehyde, both the ADH & ALDH are present in the tissues but in the oral mucosa, there is an increased level of ALDH than ADH. This imbalance because of the accumulation of ALDH results in increased toxicity causing digestive and oral cancers.

The habit of smoking in union with alcohol consumption results in increased levels of acetaldehyde and underlying association for the development of oral cancers.

Increased levels of acetaldehyde, dehydration & poor oral hygiene in alcoholics act as a potential risk factor for oral cancer and falling of tooth.


The dehydration results in shrinkage of the cells and cell damage. Prevalence of the same for longer duration results in cell damage or cell death.

Genotoxicity: it describes the damage to the genetic information within the cell causing mutation caused by the chemical agents.

Liver toxicity: Alcohol consumption leads to increased toxicity of the liver called hepatotoxicity or toxic liver.

Hyposalivation or decreased salivary secretion is evident due to dehydration of the tissues caused by alcohol and enlargement of the salivary gland.

This paves way for the other associated oral diseases.

Immunosuppression / decreased immune response to various diseases as they suppress the activity of the innate and acquired immunity of the individual.

Profuse drinking results in deterioration of the microvilli in the intestines resulting in reduced uptake of nutrients causing malnutrition. 


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Dr Arun

Dr. Arun is a practicing dentist with more than 11 years of experience. Loves to blog and in constant search of new knowledge in dentistry and health niche.


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