Study points to risk of cancer in alcohol-based mouthwash

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Studies carried out at the University of Melbourne suggest that many commonly available mouthwashes may pose medical risks such as cancer.

Research leader Michael McCullogh published his peer reviewed study findings in the Dental Journal of Australia, which states that the high alcohol content of many leading moutwashes can lead to an elevated risk of mouth cancer.

McCullogh’s study findings contend that, although many mouthwashes do avoid harsh chemicals and excessive amounts of alcohol, many brands contain alcohol levels of up to 26 per cent – high enough to lead to intoxication after just several measures

The study points to the fact that there is documented evidence of patients who have succumbed to mouth cancer with no risk factors other than harsh mouthwashes.

Ethanol degrades mucous membranes

The study claims that the cancer is caused because ethanol contained in the mouthwash degrades oral mucous membranes, in turn making it easier for cancer causing agents to penetrate.

Although brands with high levels of alcohol are said to be the most effective at killing off the bacteria that causes bad breath and tooth decay, McCullogh says their use should be limited to prescriptions by doctors and for specific periods only.

However, following the publication of the study, which named leading brand Listerine, made by pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, the Australian Dental Association, publisher of the Dental Journal of Australia, has been obliged to draw attention to scientific studies that contradict McCullogh’s findings.

Position statement

Subsequent to this, the Dental Journal of Australia published a position statement, which aims to demonstrate its impartiality on such matters.

“It is journal policy to not be influenced by market trends or pressures but rather present scholarly works on topics of interest and importance to dentistry as practised in Australia”,​ said Dr. Neil Hewson, president of the Australian Dental Association.

The statement indirectly refers to a study carried out by the American Dental Association in 2003 which concluded that the alcohol-based mouthwash was not connected to mouth cancer.

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