Many people forget that alcohol is a toxin, and, when consumed too much or at the wrong times, can significantly impact your health. This includes jeopardizing the health of your dental implants with a complication known as avascular necrosis (AVN).
Fortunately, unlike cigarettes, alcohol has a mild impact on your oral health. As long as you don’t drink right after your implants are placed and you drink only in moderation, your dental implants should not be affected.
What Is Avascular Necrosis?
AVN is a condition in which your bone begins to die. In avascular necrosis, the bone is dying because there are either too few blood vessels or the blood vessels that are there become clogged. Any kind of trauma that leads to bone healing, such as placing of dental implants, can lead to AVN, and it’s more likely in people who smoke because smoking impairs the formation of blood vessels.
It’s thought that alcohol consumption causes AVN because it reduces your body’s ability to absorb fat, leaving more fat in the blood. The fat clogs the tiny blood vessels in bone, causing the bone to starve and die.
Drinking Right after Implant Placement
The time when your dental implants are most vulnerable to alcohol is during the first 72 hours after they are placed.
Alcohol can impact your body’s normal healing response. When you heal, your body has to rebuild all the things that were damaged or lost, including skin, collagen, bone cells, and blood vessels. Alcohol interferes with the healing signals so some aspects of healing are delayed, especially blood vessel formation. As the new bone grows, there are not enough new blood vessels to supply it, leading to starvation and death.
This risk is so significant that even one drink during the 72 hours after healing can trigger AVN, so it’s important to avoid drinking any alcohol after your implants have been placed.
Heavy Alcohol Consumption
But even after your dental implants have healed, they may be at risk if you have very heavy alcohol consumption. This can lead to an inadequate blood supply that can trigger AVN related to any minor trauma or potentially even normal bone remodeling, which is more dynamic in the jaw than in other places.
What do we mean by “heavy alcohol consumption”? Studies have not been performed looking at this risk specifically for dental implants, so we have to consider what’s been determined about other areas of bone. Perhaps the largest study of the subject looked at the risks of AVN in the femoral head, where it’s more common.
The study found that people who are regular drinkers all have a slightly elevated risk for AVN, but people who consume 20 drinks a week or less (400 mL of alcohol) have a mild risk. But people who are in the top 10% of drinkers may have a risk that’s perhaps 18 times higher than that of nondrinkers.
In absolute terms, the risk may still be small, but we have to take it into account.