For years now, there’s been some concern that alcohol-based rinses like Listerine, Scope and other mainstream brands, may contribute to oral cancer. Even a partial survey of research over the past several years sends one very mixed message:
- 2008 Brazilian Oral Research: “The alleged correlation between oral cancer and alcohol-based mouthrinses presents so little, weak, inconsistent and even contradictory evidence in the literature that any kind of risk warning to patients would be uncalled for.”
- 2008 Australian Dental Journal: “On the basis of this review, we believe that there is now sufficient evidence to accept the proposition that alcohol-containing mouthwashes contribute to the increased risk of development of oral cancer and further feel that it is inadvisable for oral healthcare professionals to recommend the long-term use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes.”
- 2012 Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine: “This quantitative analysis of mouthwash use and oral malignancy revealed no statistically significant associations between mouthwash use and risk of oral cancer, nor any significant trend in risk with increasing daily use; and no association between use of mouthwash containing alcohol and oral cancer risk.”
And this year, a study in Oral Oncology stated that, yes, actually, there is cause for concern. Whether it’s due to the alcohol or not remains to be seen.
And thus, as Registered Dental Hygienist Maria Perno Goldie notes in a recent article on the research,
…the link between oral cancer and mouthwash is not at all clear. The association in this study was only significant when looking at very frequent use, three times a day. As this is not considered normal use, the reliability of this risk estimate is diminished. There is certainly no credible evidence that mouthwash causes cancer. The results do suggest a link between poor dental hygiene and oral cancers, and reinforce the importance of maintaining good dental health.
But even so, there are other good reasons you may want to avoid alcohol-based rinses. Most importantly, alcohol has a tendency to dry out the oral tissues, contributing to dry mouth (which in turn raises risk of enamel erosion, tooth decay and other issues) and chronic bad breath.
There are many excellent, alcohol-free options available. We especially like the Dental Herb Company’s Tooth & Gums Tonic, but there are other readily available brands such as Tom’s of Maine, Biotene and TheraBreath. Some mainstream brands have alcohol-free formulations, as well.
For more reasons to choose a natural mouthwash, see this post from the Dental Herb Company.
Image by colink., via Flickr