April 05, 2014

Mouthwash May Increase Risk of Oral Cancer

Drinking alcoholic beverages is known to increase risk of oral cancer. It is now suspected that using mouthwash containing alcohol (i.e., original Listerine) may also increase risk for oral cancer.

When it comes to drinking alcoholic beverages like beer, individuals who consume 50 or more grams of alcohol per day (approximately 3.5 or more drinks per day) have at least a two to three times greater risk of developing oral cancer than nondrinkers. Moreover, the risk of cancer is substantially even higher among individuals who consume this amount of alcohol and also use tobacco.

What people may not realize is that some popular over-the-counter mouthwashes ALSO contain alcohol... quite a bit of it with some containing up to 27% of volume. Alcohol is added to provide flavor and "bite." For example, Listerine contains alcohol concentrations of 21.6% in the flavored product and 26.9% in the original gold Listerine Antiseptic.

Whether alcohol is introduced into the mouth via beer or mouthwash, carcinogenic risk is present.

According to one preliminary research, the risk of developing oral cancer from mouthwash containing alcohol is almost 5 times higher than those who do not. Subsequent small studies have not supported this cancer risk, but in 2014, research performed on 3,956 patients did find an independent increased risk of cancer if alcohol-containing mouthwash was used 3 or more times a day.

It is hypothesized that alcohol content in mouthwashes allows for carcinogens to penetrate into the mouth lining increasing cancer risk.

Given the possible increased risk of oral cancer, it may be worthwhile to avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol, especially given there are plenty of alcohol-free mouthwashes commercially sold.

The role of alcohol in oral carcinogenesis with particular reference to alcohol-containing mouthwashes. Aust Dent J. 2008 Dec;53(4):302-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1834-7819.2008.00070.x.

Carcinogenicity of alcoholic beverages Exit Disclaimer. Lancet Oncology 2007;8(4):292-293.

Interaction between tobacco and alcohol use and the risk of head and neck cancer: pooled analysis in the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology Consortium. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 2009;18(2):541-550.

Oral health, dental care and mouthwash associated with upper aerodigestive tract cancer risk in Europe: The ARCAGE study. Oral Oncol. 2014 Mar 26. pii: S1368-8375(14)00065-7. doi: 10.1016/j.oraloncology.2014.03.001

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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