It’s estimated that each year in the United States there will be more than 30,000 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed and about one person every hour will die from this disease. Heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor for oral cancer.* According to the American Cancer Society, about 70 percent of oral cancer patients consume alcohol frequently. Tobacco smoking (i.e., cigarette, pipe or cigar smoking), particularly when combined with heavy alcohol consumption, has been identified as the primary risk factor for approximately 75 percent of oral cancers in the U.S.
Using tobacco with alcohol poses a much greater risk than ingesting either substance alone. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are approximately 17.6 million adults who are alcoholics or have alcohol problems. People with alcohol problems also tend to neglect other healthy habits like eating properly or taking care of daily hygiene. A 2003 study conducted at an alcohol rehabilitation center found that residents had a higher incidence of periodontal (gum) disease and cavities.
Drinking, like most other things, is best done in moderation for both your oral and overall health and well-being. Some epidemiological studies suggest a heart protective association for low-to-moderate average alcohol consumption. Indeed, sipping alcoholic beverages like red wine (which contain heart-healthy antioxidants like resveratrol) may be beneficial for lowering LDL cholesterol and helping prevent clogging of arteries.
“Protect your oral and overall health by avoiding all tobacco products and drinking alcohol only in moderation,” said George Koumaras, DDS, dental director for Delta Dental of Virginia. “This will greatly reduce your risk for oral cancer, other oral problems and a multitude of serious health conditions.”
If you are trying to stop smoking or drinking, we have outlined some ideas of how you can help yourself avoid these risky behaviors.
1. Get a hobby – Did you used to like flying kites when you were younger? Try making and flying your own.
2. Try a new hair-do – Comb your hair yourself or spend the money you are saving on those cigarettes (or those drinks) and go get your hair done professionally.
3. Exercise – This is the most effective deterrent. Exercise makes you feel good!
4. Floss and brush your teeth – well, this IS an oral health blog J
5. Clean out your closets – this is a double whammy distraction. You will have clean closets and if you take your clothes to Goodwill, you will feel good for making a donation.
6. Organize those boxes of pictures – you can get them all organized and take a trip down memory lane while you’re at it.
7. Take a candle lit bath – pull out your favorite book and just relax. Ahhhh…
8. Create a new dinner dish – the secret in this one is to keep your hands busy. Try a stir-fry. There are lots of veggies to chop in a stir-fry.
9. Donate blood – feel like a hero!
10. Enlist the help of family and friends – nothing distracts you from smoking or drinking like remembering why you want to avoid cancer.
There you have it folks. The top 10 suggestions for avoiding habits that could eventually have a negative effect on your health! If you have any advice or alternate suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments section.
*According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heavy drinking for men is typically defined as consuming an average of more than two drinks per day. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming an average of more than one drink per day.
 National Institutes of Health. NIH Fact Sheets. Oral Cancer – updated February 14, 201. Accessed March 30, 2012
 Blot WJ, McLaughlin JK, Winn DM, et al. Smoking and drinking in relation to oral and pharyngeal cancer. Cancer Res 1988;48:3282-7.