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Oral Cancer Risk Factor: Binge Drinking

By Jill Feilmeier on April 29, 2014 in Healthy Living

binge drinking 4.8

Binge drinking may be popular among college students, but during Alcohol Awareness Month we want to warn you that alcohol abuse can be extremely harmful to oral health.

April is also Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and heavy alcohol consumption is one of the major risk factors for oral cancer. It is estimated that in 2014 there will be more than 37,000 new cases of oral and oropharyngeal cancer diagnosed in the United States, and about 7,300 people will die from this disease.

Popular adult beverages – such as Long Island Ice Teas, piña coladas and energy drink-and-vodka concoctions – contain large amounts of sugar, which causes tooth decay. In addition, beverages like red wine can also stain your teeth.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that other short-term risks of binge drinking include car crashes, violence (including child abuse), risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy. Long-term risks include liver disease, cancer, stroke, heart disease and other chronic diseases.

People who struggle with alcohol dependency typically neglect other healthy habits like regular exercise, proper nutrition and proper dental hygiene habits. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking means drinking to the point that one's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels reach 0.08g/dL.

For women, this usually occurs after about four drinks in two hours, and for men, after about five. By the CDC's definition (four or more adult beverages in one sitting), more than one in eight women binge drink and twice as many men binge drink as women do.

Not surprisingly, the age group with the most binge drinkers is 18-34 adults. However, this cultural problem extends beyond college kids and twenty-somethings. According to the CDC, nearly a quarter of all adults in the U.S. (more than 38 million) binge drink about four times per month.

Drinking to excess causes 80,000 deaths in the U.S. annually. Drinking, like most other things, is best done in moderation for both your oral and overall health. For example, drinking the occasional glass of red wine (which contains heart-healthy antioxidants like resveratrol) may be beneficial for lowering LDL cholesterol and help prevent clogging of arteries.