17 Sep 2015

Students may have an extra thing to add to their list of regrets the morning after the night before, as new research has found that binge drinking is not just killing their brain cells it is also causing them to forget to brush their teeth, increasing the risk of gum disease1.

The study, published in the Journal of Periodontal Research, assessed the gum health of more than 800 students and found those who were drinking large quantities of alcohol were more likely to forget to brush teeth before going to bed and consequently suffered from higher instances of gum disease.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation said: "I don't think it is unfair to say that a large proportion on students in the UK like a few drinks and are probably aware of how this affects their general health, especially when they wake up the next day, but they probably overlook the very harmful effects this can have on their dental health.

"The start of the university year in particular is a time which students need to ensure they look after themselves as cheap alcohol deals during ‘fresher's week' can lead to excessive drinking. Forgetting to brush after drinking can lead to some serious problems for their teeth, something which they probably don't want to deal with while trying to find their way in their studies. Thankfully maintaining a healthy mouth and preventing these problems is a relatively easy thing to do."

A record number of students are starting university this year, with more than 400,000 being accepted onto degree courses on the first day of results being revealed. With statistics showing that 15 per cent2of young adults admit to binge drinking regularly, this is potentially putting thousands of students in danger of developing gum disease.

smiley friends view from above"University students are, in my experience, some of the most outspoken voices on good dental health and as they are becoming more and more knowledgeable and aware of the importance of looking after their teeth and I am seeing first hand their desire to spread positive messages to other students," commented Professor Elizabeth Kay, Foundation Dean for the Peninsula Dental School, Plymouth University and trustee of the British Dental Health Foundation.

"With a record number of people entering university this year there is a real potential to positively influence more people than ever on the dangers of excessive drinking. This will ensure they take the necessary measures to ensure they look after their dental health right from the first day of their studies."

Heavy drinking has many serious negative effects on dental health. The main threat comes from the sugar content in alcohol which, when broken down in your mouth, creates an acidic breeding ground for bacteria and plaque which causes tooth decay.

An excessive amount of alcohol can also cause dehydration, a side of effect of which is dry mouth; this is potentially harmful as there is less saliva within the mouth. Saliva contains anti-bacterial agents which help to fight acid, but when people are dehydrated these agents disappear causing higher levels of decay and erosion.

What is also hugely worrying is that alcohol is linked to an increase in the risk of mouth cancer.

Dr Carter added; "With more than two million students currently getting ready to head to university across the country we are trying to make them aware of what they can do to look after their teeth a little better.

"All alcoholic drinks are bad for oral health due to their sugar content; a general rule though is that the higher the sugar contents the worse the effect of dental health. Therefore, any mixers with high sugar levels such as energy drinks or cola mixed with spirits are very dangerous to your teeth; if possible it is advised to avoid these or choose a low calorie alternative to mix these drinks.

"Using a straw to drink will help to minimise the length of time that the drink is in contact with the teeth and could offer more protection against decay or acid erosion.

"Once you get home do not brush your teeth straight away, you need to wait for one hour after the last drink to allow the enamel to re-mineralise and prevent brushing away any loosened particles. After this time has passed you should brush and floss your teeth before going to bed.

"If you often forget to do this, leave your tooth brush on your pillow before you go out to remind you to spend a couple of minutes brushing as soon as you can."


1. Mizutani S, et al. Gingival condition and tooth-brushing behaviour after alcohol consumption. Journal of Periodontal Research 2015; 50: 494-499

2. Office for National Statistics, Adult Drinking Habits in Great Britain, 2015