Britain has a serious problem with excessive consumption of alcohol. More than 10 million people in the country drink more than the recommended daily limits (currently 2 units for men and women). More than 50 medical conditions including mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers, high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver and depression resulting in 9000 deaths a year are due to alcohol consumption. Only smoking and obesity result in greater numbers of deaths and diseases. In England, alcohol-related harm costs around 21 billion pounds per year, with £3.5bn to the NHS, £11bn tackling alcohol-related crime and £7.3bn from lost work days and productivity costs.
Dental team members need to promote alcohol reduction as part of their preventive and health promotion advice and also to document this in their patient records. It is important that patients understand how units equate to measures of alcohol and visual aids may be the most effective way of communicating with and educating patients. It is also important to emphasise the fact that patients who smoke and consume alcohol in excess are fifty times more likely to develop cancers than those that do not drink or smoke.
14 units of alcohol is the recommended weekly maximum for men and women. This equates to 7 glasses of wine or beer per week. Current guidelines recommend abstinence for at least 2 consecutive days per week to allow the liver to repair. Patients who drink above the recommended limits should be educated in the harmful effects of alcohol and encouraged to make a plan and have a budget. They should stay hydrated and avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Friends and relatives should be informed of the desire to reduce intake and so they should avoid encouragement. Alcohol-free beverages may also be of use in the reduction programme. Whilst some patients will show annoyance at the constant prevention and reduction advice we must remember that it is our professional duty to promote healthy lifestyles and reduce disease.
Unfortunately, there is an alcohol problem in a proportion of the dental profession too… that is for another day.