Drinking alcohol is associated with variation in the human oral microbiome in a large study of American adults

Microbiome. 2018 Apr 24;6(1):59. doi: 10.1186/s40168-018-0448-x.


Background: Dysbiosis of the oral microbiome can lead to local oral disease and potentially to cancers of the head, neck, and digestive tract. However, little is known regarding exogenous factors contributing to such microbial imbalance.

Results: We examined the impact of alcohol consumption on the oral microbiome in a cross-sectional study of 1044 US adults. Bacterial 16S rRNA genes from oral wash samples were amplified, sequenced, and assigned to bacterial taxa. We tested the association of alcohol drinking level (non-drinker, moderate drinker, or heavy drinker) and type (liquor, beer, or wine) with overall microbial composition and individual taxon abundance. The diversity of oral microbiota and overall bacterial profiles differed between heavy drinkers and non-drinkers (α-diversity richness p = 0.0059 and β-diversity unweighted UniFrac p = 0.0036), and abundance of commensal order Lactobacillales tends to be decreased with higher alcohol consumption (fold changes = 0.89 and 0.94 for heavy and moderate drinkers, p trend = 0.005 [q = 0.064]). Additionally, certain genera were enriched in subjects with higher alcohol consumption, including Actinomyces, Leptotrichia, Cardiobacterium, and Neisseria; some of these genera contain oral pathogens, while Neisseria can synthesize the human carcinogen acetaldehyde from ethanol. Wine drinkers may differ from non-drinkers in microbial diversity and profiles (α-diversity richness p = 0.048 and β-diversity unweighted UniFrac p = 0.059) after controlling for drinking amount, while liquor and beer drinkers did not. All significant differences between drinkers and non-drinkers remained after exclusion of current smokers.

Conclusions: Our results, from a large human study of alcohol consumption and the oral microbiome, indicate that alcohol consumption, and heavy drinking in particular, may influence the oral microbiome composition. These findings may have implications for better understanding the potential role that oral bacteria play in alcohol-related diseases.

Keywords: 16s rRNA genes; Alcohol consumption; Large population-based study; Oral microbiome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metagenome
  • Metagenomics
  • Microbiota*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth / microbiology*
  • Public Health Surveillance
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • United States


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S