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You may not know it, but a healthy mouth is home to hundreds of distinct species of microbe. To remain healthy, it’s important that they get along well not just with you, their host, but with each other as well. A rich diversity is highly desirable, to ensure that harmful organisms, responsible for gum disease and associated with heart disease and with some cancers, do not come to predominate in the “oral microbiome”, as science calls it. As might be expected, your diet has an important part to play in determining the diversity of species in your mouth. And of course, your diet includes what you drink.

A recent study published in Microbiome set out to determine if drinking habits affect the oral microbiome. They studied over 1,000 individuals, categorising them as non-drinkers, moderate drinkers and heavy drinkers. They found a statistically significant correlation between extent of daily alcohol consumption and levels of certain classes of bacterium.

In both moderate and heavy drinkers they found larger populations of Bacteroidales, Actinomyces and Neisseria. These bacteria are all potentially harmful; some causing gum disease and others acting to reduce populations of beneficial bacteria. Conversely, they found in drinkers smaller populations of Lactobacillales, the bacteria known to be important in curbing gum infection.

The researchers are at pains to point out that their study did not attempt to control for such confounding factors as the poorer oral hygiene habits often observed in heavy drinkers. Nor was any attempt made to distinguish between the effects of different beverages. However the results clearly indicate the need for those of us who drink alcohol, however moderately, to take extra care with our dental hygiene.