There are about 700 types of bacteria that live in the human mouth. It might seem alarming, but these microorganisms are typically harmless, and some of them even safeguard your mouth against infection. But bad news for heavy drinkers: If you're in the habit of having more than one drink per day, you might be throwing off the balance of these tiny creatures.
A study published Tuesday in the journal Microbiome revealed that over time, alcohol can permanently alter the ecosystem inside your mouth, suppressing the effects of protective bacteria while providing a convenient breeding ground for disease-causing ones, Time reported. People who consume large quantities of alcohol are additionally more likely to risk everything from gingivitis to even certain types of cancer, compared to those who don't drink.
The study observed 1,044 American adults, 270 of whom didn't drink at all, 614 of whom drank moderately, and 160 of whom drank heavily (defined as more than two drinks a day for men, and more than one drink a day for women). Drinkers had higher levels of three strains of bacteria that cause diseases "including cancers of the head, neck, esophagus, and pancreas," Time explained.
Of course, the case isn't completely solved, said study author Jiyoung Ahn, an epidemiologist at the NYU School of Medicine. Further investigation will be required, including more studies on the specific effects that beer, wine, and hard liquor have on the mouth.
But for now, it's "pretty much safe to say that alcohol influences the oral microbiome," Ahn explained. So you might want to consider taking an extra shift as designated driver soon. Read more about this study at Time.