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© DENNIS KUNKEL/SPL. Lactobacillus plantarum.
Alcohol consumption linked to changes in oral bacteria

By Nicole MacKee
Alcohol consumption may affect the diversity of oral bacteria, potentially increasing a person’s risk of gum disease, and cancers of the head, neck and digestive track, US researchers have reported.

In a cross-sectional study of more than 1000 adults, researchers analysed the oral microbiome of participants by genetically testing mouthwash samples.

They found that compared to nondrinkers, adults who consumed one or more alcohol drinks per day had depleted amounts of beneficial bacteria (such as Lactobacillales) and a greater abundance of potentially pathogenic bacteria (such as Actinomyces, Leptotrichia, Cardiobacterium and Neisseria). They noted that Neisseria could synthesise the human carcinogen acetaldehyde from ethanol.

The researchers said the changes in oral microbiome observed in the study could potentially contribute to alcohol-related diseases, including periodontal disease, head and neck cancer and digestive tract cancers, but further research was needed.

Professor Camile Farah, Professor of Oral Oncology at the University of Western Australia, Perth, said the findings built on previous evidence of a link between alcohol consumption and oral disease.

‘This study adds to our understanding of the [oral] microbiome generally, and how alcohol consumption might be involved in the aetiology or the risk factors for some of these diseases,’ Professor Farah told Medicine Today.

‘Through molecular genetics, we are understanding more about the interactions between various bacteria, the communities within which they live and how they react as communities with elements such as alcohol.’

Professor Farah said the findings, published in Microbiome, also supported evidence from a 2008 literature review, of which he was a coauthor, linking the use of alcohol-containing mouth washes to increased oral cancer risk.

To reduce risks associated with alcohol consumption, he said clinicians could advise patients to: drink alcohol in moderation and pay attention to the ethanol concentration in their drinks; maintain high standards of oral hygiene; use mouthwashes only when needed and select alcohol-free products; and have a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and low in sugar.
Microbiome 2018; 6: 59.