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Does Mouthwash Increase the Risk of Oral Cancer?

Updated on March 11, 2010

A risk simply means that there is an increased risk to a disease, but does not mean that it is a cause of a disease. For instance, if a substance produces a weakening in the body's natural ability to fight disease, than it would be termed a risk factor. Mouthwash has been promoted for years as a way to improve the health of the mouth. However, with the high amounts of alcohol in many mouthwashes, there has been substantive evidence that has raised the concerns of researchers regarding the safety of mouthwash. There have been studies that have shown that mouthwash could increase the chances of oral cancer.

The ethanol in mouthwash is thought to allow cancer-causing substances to permeate the lining of the mouth more easily and cause harm.

Acetaldehyde, a toxic by-product of alcohol that may accumulate in the oral cavity when swished around the mouth, is also believed to be carcinogenic.

Some mouthwash contains as much as 26 percent alcohol.

The University of Maryland reveals,

Some studies have shown that mouthwash with alcohol content increases the risk for oral cancer. In addition, other studies have shown that smokers and people who drink alcohol tend to use mouthwash more often, linking all three factors together.

The American Cancer Society mentions the concerns toward mouthwash being a risk factor for oral cancer. However, they state that the concerns are uncertain, unproven and controversial, albeit worthy of mention.

Some studies have suggested that mouthwash with high alcohol content might be linked to a higher risk of oral and oropharyngeal cancers. But recent research has questioned these results. Studying this possible link is complicated by the fact that smokers and frequent drinkers (who are already at increased risk of these cancers) are more likely to use mouthwash than people who neither smoke nor drink.

Whether or not mouthwash is a cause of oral cancer, is certainly being debated as there are controversial opinions on the matter. However, if a risk factor means that the guards that could protect a patient from acquiring oral cancer are reduced than the risks for oral cancer are certainly in question. The Australian Dental Association has the question on their radar as well. They sum up the controversy nicely with the below:

"The most significant difference (between alcohol and alcohol-containing mouthwash) is that one is for pleasure and the other is being recommended as a health product.''

Cancer Council NSW chief executive Andrew Penman said the review was "interesting'', but called for further research.

"I think it's quite a well-thought-out proposition, but it does warrant further investigation,'' he said.


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    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 6 years ago

      Very interesting and unique. The title was eye-catching and the hub lived up to it. Great job.

    • yenajeon profile image

      yenajeon 8 years ago from California

      This is a fantastic hub! Such great insight, I'll be sure to check alcohol percentages on my mouthwashes for the future!