Mouthwashes are marketed as a healthcare item, but recent research suggests that those that contain alcohol may cause an increased risk in oral cancer. Extended use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes can change the pH of the mouth and throat and dry their mucous membranes, which is associated with an elevated risk of mouth and throat cancers.
The ethanol in mouthwashes can also allow carcinogens to easily penetrate the mouth lining, which permits more damage to be done. A poisonous by-product of alcohol, acetaldehyde, can accumulate in the mouth as one gargles the mouthwash. This compounds the cancer risk as this poison may have cancer-causing properties.
Many mouthwashes contain higher levels of alcohol than alcoholic drinks like beer and wine. Listerine, one of the most popular brands, contains as much as 26% alcohol. And while alcoholic beverages are swallowed, mouthwash is gargled and held in the mouth for extended periods of time.
Independent Australian researchers recommended that mouthwashes that contain alcohol be immediately pulled from store shelves after looking at scientific information on mouthwashes which suggests their link to oral cancer. These researchers administered a review, which was later published in the Dental Journal of Australia, that clearly stated that there was “significant evidence” to show that “alcohol-containing mouthwashes contribute to the increased risk of development of oral cancer.”
This review examined several studies from around the world including one international study that monitored 3,210 people’s habits. It found that people who use mouthwash on a daily basis were at a “significant risk factor” for developing head and neck cancers, despite whether the mouthwash users smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol. The study found that the cancer risk was nine times higher for people who smoked cigarettes and used mouthwash and five times higher for those who drank alcohol and used mouthwash. Perhaps surprisingly, it was also found that people who use mouthwash but without smoking or drinking also had a four-to-five time increase in developing head and neck cancers.
Mouthwash should not substitute good oral health habits, and some dentists say mouthwash is not even necessary. It is more important to thoroughly brush your teeth twice each day and use dental floss daily. There are alternatives to alcohol-containing mouthwashes like herbal or natural mouthwashes. You can also make your own, which is ideal, since you can decide which ingredients to use.
Bring two cups of spring or mineral water to a boil. Then remove the water from the heat. Add to the water 3 teaspoons fresh parsley, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, two teaspoons whole cloves and 2 teaspoons peppermint extract. Steep the mixture for up to 15 minutes before straining it. Store the liquid in a sealed container and refrigerate.
Mint and Rosemary Mouthwash
Bring 2 ½ cups mineral water to a rolling boil. Add to the water 1 teaspoon fresh mint leaves and 1 teaspoon rosemary leaves. Cover and turn off the heat. Steep the mixture for 20 minutes. Then remove from the stove and let it cool to room temperature. Strain the mixture before storing in the refrigerator in a sealed container. If you want to make a larger quantity, add 1 teaspoon tincture of myrrh as a natural preservative.
Cardamom and Clove Mouthwash
Bring 2 cups spring or mineral water to a boil. Add to the water 2 tablespoons whole cloves and 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom. Let the mixture steep until the water has cooled to room temperature. Strain the mixture through a colander, saving the liquid and discarding the cloves. Store the liquid in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Assure a Smile: Miami’s Home of Holistic Dentistry
This special health report has been produced by Assure a Smile, South Florida’s Home of Holistic Dentistry. For more information, readers are invited to visit the URLs in the Sources section below. Readers may also schedule an appointment with a Miami dentist online, or call our front desk directly at 305-274-0047.
Sources for this report include: