Study Links Excessive Mouthwash Use to Oral Cancers

Posted on 6/30/2014 by Gregory A. Williams
Mouthwash, toothbrush and pasted on bathroom counterWhether short on time after breakfast, lunch or between afternoon snacks, many people tend to reach for a bottle of mouthwash to cover up the lingering aromas from foods and drinks they eat when brushing and flossing just aren't an option. While mouthwash offers a quick fix to deal with bad breath and lingering odors, frequently using mouthwash instead of brushing or flossing could become a dangerous habit.

According to a new study published in Oral Oncology, individuals who use mouthwash more than three times a day, coupled with poor oral hygiene and infrequent dental visits, could have an increased risk of oral cancer.

Until this recent study, researchers were unsure whether these dental risk factors were separate from well known risks for throat and mouth cancers, such as low socioeconomic status, alcohol consumption and smoking. Previous research has established that heavy alcohol consumption and smoking, especially when done together, have strong links between throat and mouth cancer. Additionally, research has shown that low socioeconomic status also ranks as a contributing factor to an increased risk of cancer. However, for this study, researchers at the University of Glasgow Dental School sought to investigate whether mouthwash, dental care and oral health shared an association with throat and mouth cancer, aside from commonly associated risk factors.

Surprising Discovery

As part of the study, researchers gathered approximately 2,000 patients suffering from throat and mouth cancers, and an additional 2,000 individuals used as a control group for the study. The study was conducted in oral health clinics in nine countries, and was funded by the European Union. Researchers began the study determined to discover whether new risk factors could influence an individual's risk factors for oral cancer.

After accounting for such risk factors as socioeconomic factors, alcohol consumption and smoking, researchers were still successfully able to establish a connection between poor oral health and an increased risk of throat and mouth cancers. For the purpose of the study, poor oral health was defined as individuals who wore partial or complete dentures and individuals who suffered from persistent bleeding gums. Despite common misconceptions, patients who use dentures need to receive regular dental care just as patients with permanent teeth.

Regarding poor oral hygiene, researchers discovered that individuals who never or rarely brushed their teeth or visited the dentist were more likely to develop oral cancer. The number of times a patient makes dental visits should be an instrumental measurement in assessing a patient's risk of oral disease, according to researchers. Just visiting a dentist as little as once every two years could help to lower a patient's risk of oral cancer.

Finally, researchers discovered that individuals who excessively used mouthwash – more than three times daily – had a higher prevalence of developing oral cancer. This finding was consistent with an earlier Australian study that found alcohol in mouthwash enabled carcinogens to better penetrate an individual's mouth lining, thereby increasing the risk of oral cancer.

While more study is required before researchers can make any definitive statement regarding the safe use of mouthwash, this study does suggest that the use of shortcuts to replace brushing and flossing could possess unnecessary risks.

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