Alcohol consumption a growing health concern during pandemic

Delta Dental of Illinois highlights oral health risks including cancer

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (March 29, 2021) — An increase in alcohol consumption to manage stress during the COVID-19 pandemic is also increasing people’s risk of oral health problems associated with alcohol.

Several national studies show an increase in alcohol consumption over the past year. In one study, 60% of adults reported an increase in drinking during the pandemic, and 46% cited stress as the reason.1

“Alcohol consumption, when not done in moderation, can lead to a number of oral health problems,” said Dr. Sheila Strock, vice president, dental services and science officer at Delta Dental of Illinois. “It can increase your risk of gum disease, tooth decay, mouth sores and even oral cancer.”

Connection between alcohol and oral cancer

April is both Alcohol Awareness Month and Oral Cancer Awareness Month. The two have a distinct connection.

Alcohol abuse is the second-highest risk factor for developing oral cancer, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. About 75 to 80% of Illinoisans with oral cancer drink alcohol.2

When heavy drinking is combined with smoking, a person has 30 times greater risk of developing oral cancer.3 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines heavy drinking as eight or more drinks a week for women, and 15 or more for men.

Reducing the risk

An estimated 2,120 Illinoisans will be diagnosed with new cases of mouth and throat cancer this year – a 4% increase over last year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Men are especially susceptible. Oral cancer remains one of the top 10 types of cancer among men.4 The likelihood of oral cancer also increases with age – it is most often diagnosed among people over 55.5 Aside from alcohol and tobacco, other risk factors associated with oral cancer include sun exposure and human papillomavirus (HPV) infections.

Prevention is the best medicine. Reduce your risk of oral cancer by:

  • Visiting the dentist regularly. Dentists can detect signs of more than 120 diseases that have symptoms appearing in the mouth, including oral cancer.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption.
  • Abstaining from smoking marijuana and all forms of tobacco including chewing, vaping and smoking cigarettes.
  • Getting an HPV vaccine.
  • Applying lip balm with at least SPF 30.

Self-exams can also help. Symptoms to look for include a sore or lump in the mouth, lip or throat; a red or white patch in the mouth; or a feeling that something is caught in your throat. You may also experience difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the jaw or tongue; numbness in the mouth; swelling of the jaw or ear pain.

Healthier ways to manage stress

Having a drink, while enjoyable on occasion, isn’t the best way to alleviate stress. Healthier choices include:

  • Exercising of any kind, whether it’s a low-impact outdoor walk or a high-impact sports activity or fitness class.
  • Eating healthy, well-balanced meals that include lean protein, dairy and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Getting enough sleep so your body can recharge.
  • Staying connected with friends and family, even if it’s through video chats or phone calls.

For additional tips on protecting your oral health, visit

About Delta Dental of Illinois

Delta Dental is the national dental benefits leader covering 1 in 3 Americans who have dental coverage. Delta Dental of Illinois is one of 39 member companies that make up the national Delta Dental system. Based in Naperville, Illinois, Delta Dental of Illinois provides dental benefit programs to more than 6,000 Illinois companies and covers 2 million individuals, employees and family members nationwide. Delta Dental of Illinois is committed to improving oral health in our community and furthers this commitment through the work of Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation.

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,

2 Illinois Department of Public Health,

3 American Cancer Society, 2021 Cancer Facts & Figures, page 20,

4 American Cancer Society, 2021 Cancer Facts & Figures, page 10,

5 NIH, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research,