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Alcohol identification and brief advice for the dental team

30 Oct 2018

The UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines were updated in 2016,1 and outlined the risks of drinking alcohol. 

The guidelines are as follows:  

  • To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. 
  • If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread your drinking evenly over 3 or more days. If you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risks of death from long term illness and from accidents and injuries. 
  • The risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis. 
  • If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week.
  • If you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum. 
  • Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk. The risk of harm to the baby is likely to be low if you have drunk only small amounts of alcohol before you knew you were pregnant or during pregnancy. If you find out you are pregnant after you have drunk alcohol during early pregnancy, you should avoid further drinking. You should be aware that it is unlikely in most cases that your baby has been affected. If you are worried about alcohol use during pregnancy do talk to your doctor or midwife.

The dental team sees overs half of the adult population annually and so it is essential to have training to deliver brief advice.  As 25.6 million adults (58%) in England reported drinking alcohol in the previous week and 15% of these adults drank more than 8/6 units on their heaviest day,2 the role of advising patients of the risks are central within the oral health assessment.  The development of oral and pharyngeal cancer3 and the increased risk of facial injuries and dental trauma from misuse of alcohol4  means that advice for patients is key.

The successes of increasing tobacco cessation rates by dental teams memebrs5 is promising for the alcohol reduction agenda.  With evidence demonstrating that training increases dental team member’s knowledge and also their willingness to screen patients for alcohol use,6 it is timely a new FREE e-learning resource is now available.  The resource has been developed by Public Health England to help dental teams gain the skills to talk to their patients about alcohol consumption and comes with 1-hour CPD. This e-learning resource has been designed to gives the necessary skills to deliver brief advice to patients in only take a few minutes and is aligned to Section 8 ‘Alcohol misuse and oral health’ within Delivering Better Oral Health.

To access the training you must register to use the resource for free, and then validate your email address  Visit to register for access.


  1. Department of Health, UK Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guidelines 2016.
  2. NHS, Statistics on Alcohol, England, 2018. 2018.
  3. Kawakita, D. and K. Matsuo, Alcohol and head and neck cancer. Cancer and Metastasis Reviews, 2017. 36(3): p. 425-434.
  4. Hutchison, I., P. Magennis, J.P. Shepherd, and A.E. Brown, The BAOMS United Kingdom survey of facial injuries part 1: aetiology and the association with alcohol consumption. British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 1998. 36(1): p. 3-13.
  5. Carr, A. and J. Ebbert, Interventions for tobacco cessation in the dental setting. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2012. 6: p. CD005084.
  6. Miller, P.M., M.C. Ravenel, A.E. Shealy, and S. Thomas, Alcohol screening in dental patients: The prevalence of hazardous drinking and patients” attitudes about screening and advice. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 2006. 137(12): p. 1692-1698.

Dr Julia Csikar, Senior Dental Public Health Manager for Public Health England | Twitter: @julia.csikar

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