There have been fewer studies on the problem than the related one of cigarettes and other tobacco products , but alcohol consumption could very well lead to dental implant complications, such as osteonecrosis . Moderate alcohol consumption should be fine, but consumption during the immediate postsurgical period and excessive alcohol consumption could increase your risk for a complication known as avascular necrosis (AVN).

group of friends enjoying alcohol together

What Is Avascular Necrosis?

Like osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ), AVN causes your bone to die. There are many potential risk factors that can lead to AVN, including bone trauma, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

In AVN, the cause of bone death is blockage in the blood vessels that starves bone cells of vital nutrients. The belief is that because alcohol can interfere with fat absorption, there is more fat in the blood. This fat can clog up the fine blood vessels in the bone, which then leads to bone death. But the mechanism is still not certain.

Drinking Right after Implant Placement

People are discouraged from consuming alcohol during the 72 hours after implant placement because the alcohol-associated risks are greatest during that period.

Alcohol interferes with the critical inflammatory response, which initiates healing. It impairs the signalling that is supposed to occur with key proteins called cytokines. The result is a delay in healing , but not all aspects of healing are delayed equally. This includes the regrowth of skin, the production of structural collagens, and, most importantly, the regrowth of blood vessels. The regrowth of blood vessels lags behind other aspects of healing, so, essentially, the new bone outgrows the ability of blood vessels to feed it, and within 48 hours the unsupplied bone-growing cells will die.

Even one drink during this critical period may be enough to trigger adverse effects .

Heavy Alcohol Consumption

Heavy alcohol consumption, on the other hand, can lead to a situation where the bone already has diminished vascular tissue, which means that it can’t supply the new bone from the beginning, and excessive demands on the inadequate blood supply can lead to a more general collapse of the bone tissue.

How much alcohol puts your jawbone at risk? As we noted, there haven’t been many studies related directly to dental implants and alcohol. So we have to look at studies that project risk in other situations of AVN, such as of the femoral head , where it is much more common than in the jaw.

According to a study in the late 1980s, any drinker is at a slightly elevated risk for AVN, but if you consume less than 400 mL of alcohol, about 20 drinks a week or less, then your risk is mild and may not be statistically significant. This means that about 90% of Americans probably have little or no concern about their alcohol consumption affecting their dental implants after the initial healing period. However, at the level of the top 10% of drinkers, there may be a risk as high as 15 times the normal. Considering the normal risk is slight, the absolute risk might still be small, but it may be enough that we might recommend against dental implants.

The only way to know for sure what your likely risk is is to allow us to perform a comprehensive exam that will reveal all relevant risk factors. To schedule an appointment with an Orange County implant dentist, please call (949) 551-5902 for an appointment at Rice Dentistry in Irvine.