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The Mouths of Heavy Drinkers Are Disgusting

Do you drink a lot? Chances are that you have an undesirable mix of bacteria infesting your mouth.

In a study published this week in Microbiome, researchers assess the impact of alcohol use on the oral microbiome. Looking at more than 1,000 US adults, they amplified, and sequenced bacterial 16S rRNA genes from oral wash samples. Testing the association of the level of alcohol drinking and the type of alcohol with overall microbial composition and individual taxon abundance, they find that the diversity of oral microbiota and overall bacterial profiles were different between heavy drinkers and teetotalers.

The concentration of some good bacteria was less abundant in heavy drinkers, they say, while some nasty bacteria were more prevalent in the mouths of high consumers of alcohol. It is unclear why alcohol would have these effects.

Jiyoung Ahn of NYU Langone Health tells CBS News that she and her colleagues wanted to examine the lifestyle factors that influence the oral microbiome, and the effect of alcohol consumption seemed a natural research avenue to pursue. Heavy drinking has been linked to higher risks of gum disease, and certain cancers of the head and neck has also been associated with alcohol use, suggesting liquor affects the bacterial makeup of the mouth.

One expert, however, is not convinced by Ahn and her team's findings. Yiping Han, a professor of dental medicine and microbiology at Columbia University, says that the oral microbiome can be influenced by many factors. Additionally, it is unclear how many people who were categorized as heavy drinkers in the study might have been alcohol-dependent.