VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Oral biologists from the
University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine have shown for the
first time that heavy alcohol consumption or a diet low in
antioxidant vitamins can increase the risk of developing gum
The findings have implications beyond gum disease since bacteria
from gum infections have been shown to play a role in heart
disease, lung disease and diabetes, in addition to destroying gum
tissue and bone.
Both studies were presented here today (March 13) at the
combined meeting of the American Association for Dental Research
and International Association for Dental Research.
The research was conducted in UB's Periodontal Disease Research
Center, directed by Sara G. Grossi, D.D.S., senior research
scientist. Both studies used data from the Third National Health
and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), a population-based
survey conducted in the U.S. from 1988-94.
For the alcohol/periodontal disease study, researchers analyzed
data from 6,492 subjects between the ages of 20 and 90 selected
randomly from the full sample. Persons who reported consuming
alcohol from any source were divided into four groups based on
consumption level, starting with five drinks per week or less and
progressing to 20-per-week or more.
For periodontal-disease analysis, the subjects were divided into
two groups based on attachment level, the amount of gum detachment
from underlying bone.
Linking the data on alcohol consumption and attachment level
showed a direct dose-response relationship between the amount of
alcohol consumed weekly and severity of gum disease.
"As alcohol consumption increased from five drinks per week to
10, 15 and 20, the risk of periodontal disease rose from 10 percent
to 20, 30 and then 40 percent," Grossi said. "When we see that kind
of relationship, we know the findings are solid."
Grossi theorizes that alcohol may increase periodontal-disease
risk in several ways: by decreasing the ability of neutrophils to
fight infection; interfering with the clotting mechanism;
decreasing the formation of new bone, and causing deficiencies in
vitamin B complex and protein, components necessary for
In a follow-up study, researchers will investigate the
relationship of different types of alcohol and periodontal-disease
In a related study, Grossi's team examined serum levels of
antioxidant nutrients and their relationship to periodontal
disease, using data from 9,862 subjects between the ages of 20 and
90 who participated in NHANES III.
To establish an antioxidant profile, researchers assessed levels
of vitamins A, C and E; selenium; a-carotene; b-cryptoxanthin;
lycopene, and lutein. Periodontal-disease status was established by
combining mean gum-attachment level, plus the number and locations
of detachments. The lowest and highest periodontal-disease groups
then were compared with antioxidant status.
Results showed that selenium has the strongest association with
gum disease, with low levels increasing the risk by 13 fold. Low
levels of vitamins A and C, a-carotene and b-crytoxanthin also
increased significantly the risk of gum disease. The only
antioxidant studied in which low levels were protective was lutein;
Grossi said the mechanism for this relationship remains
"Clearly, low levels of most antioxidants are a risk factor for
periodontal disease and infection," she said. "Free radicals are
released as a result of bacteria clearance and killing. Periodontal
tissue depends on natural antioxidants to overcome this oxidative
stress and maintain homeostasis. When antioxidants are depleted,
the ability of gum tissue to overcome oxidative stress, maintain
normal tissue and control the bacterial damage appears to be
More research is needed to sort out the mechanisms by which
antioxidants are protective in periodontal tissue, and to conduct
intervention studies to test the effects of antioxidants on gum
tissues, she noted.
Additional researchers involved in the two studies were Mieko
Nishida and Mine Tezal, students in oral biology; Alex W. Ho,
statistician; Robert Dunford, senior programmer, and Robert J.
Genco, D.D.S., Ph.D., SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair of the
Department of Oral Biology.
Both studies were supported by grants from the U.S. Public
Health Service, with additional support from Sunstar Inc. for the