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Oral health implications of elevated alcohol consumption during CNY celebrations

The link between excessive alcohol intake and oral health problem is well documented (Yutacar - Unsplash)

By: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Lim Ghee Seong, Dr. Siti Fauzza Ahmad, Dr. Zubaidah Zanul Abidin

“Yam Seng” a famous chant during the reunion dinner and this year, as the Chinese is celebrating the year of Dragon according to the lunar calendar. As all the family members gathered to celebrate this joyous festivities, it is essential to shed light on a less-celebrated aspect of this occasion – its potential impact on oral health.

Consuming alcoholic as a part of the tradition in celebrating this festive season have been practice ever since and being pass from one generation to the next which has deep historical roots and cultural significance. While the specific customs and practice may vary across different regions and communities, the inclusion of alcoholic beverages as part of the celebration has been longstanding tradition in Chinese culture. However, in the modern days, this has not been practiced by everyone in the Chinese community due to health-related consideration. Besides that, it is relatively inaccurate to say this is a Chinese culture, as other festivities around the globe does consume alcohol such as Christmas, St Patrick’s day etc. Consumption of alcohol beverages during the Chinese New Year celebration often considered as a symbol of joy, prosperity and communal harmony. It has become a way for everyone to come together, share blessings and strengthen social bonds.

It’s important to note that while alcohol is a part of the cultural and social fabric of Chinese New Year celebrations, moderation is often emphasized. The focus is on the positive and communal aspect of sharing drinks rather than excessive or irresponsible consumption. Additionally, many families and individuals have their own unique traditions regarding the types of drinks they prefer during the festive season.

As a dental clinician, my observant eye is drawn to a concerning trend during the Chinese New Year festivities. Amidst the vibrant celebrations and joyous reunions, a noteworthy surge in the consumption of alcoholic beverages becomes evident. This increase in the alcohol consumption during this festive season raises a red flag for oral health, and this need to raise the awareness and preventive measures. It is utmost important to recognize these potential hazardous effects on oral health.

Let us look into these concerning statistics that showed the global prevalence of oral health issues and study the role that alcohol plays in exacerbating these challenges. According to recent global studies, over 3.5 billion people suffer from oral health conditions, ranging from cavities (tooth decay) to severe periodontal disease (gum disease). The link between excessive alcohol intake and oral health problem is well documented, with alcohol acting as a contributing factor to issues such as xerostalmia (dry mouth), dental cavities, and increase risk of gum disease.

One of the primary oral health concerns associated with elevated alcohol intake is xerostalmia or dry mouth. Alcohol has the ability to cause dehydration of the body, leading to a reduction in saliva production. Where saliva plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy oral condition by neutralizing acids base imbalance, aiding in digestion and preventing the buildup of harmful bacteria. A decrease in saliva flow, as induced by alcohol, creates an environment conducive to the proliferation of bacteria, which may lead to development of cavities and other dental issues.

Moreover, the correlation between excessive alcohol consumption and an increased risk of oral cancer is a significant cause for concern. The World Health organization (WHO) reports that in year 2020, approximately 657000 new case of lip, oral cavity and pharyngeal cancers were diagnosed globally. While various factors contribute to oral cancers, alcohol consumption remains a prominent risk factor especially when coupled with other habits like tobacco use and betel quid chewing.

It is imperative for individuals to recognize the potential consequences of elevated alcohol consumption on their oral health and take proactive action to mitigate risks. Maintaining regular oral hygiene routines such as toothbrushing and flossing, becomes paramount during festive season. These steps maybe simple but effective practices that can make a difference on your oral health condition. Additionally, reducing or zero alcohol consumption is the key to safeguarding oral health.

Dental professionals play a vital role in fostering awareness. Regular check-ups with a dentist, especially post-festive season, can aid in early detection of oral health issues and prompt intervention. Education on the potential consequences of excessive alcohol consumption, coupled with practical tips for maintaining oral health, can empower individuals to make informed choices during this celebratory time.

As we are celebrating the Chinese New Year celebrations, let us not underestimate the impact of elevated alcohol consumption on our oral health. The statistics paint a clear picture of the global prevalence of oral health issues, and it is our responsibility to take proactive measures to safeguard our smiles. May this festive season be marked not only by joyous celebration but also by a commitment to oral health, ensuring that the Year of the Dragon begins with healthy and radiant smiles.

The authors are from the Department of Restorative Dentistry, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya.

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