Study: Excessive Mouthwash May Increase Risk Of Oral Cancer

April 29, 2014 at 9:02 AM


recent study on the causes of oral cancer led to some surprising results. The findings, published in Oral Oncology, found that poor dental hygiene and excessive use of mouthwash may lead to an increase in oral cancer.

So this begs the question, should people cut back on mouthwash? Perhaps even avoid it all together?

Here’s what one leading cancer surgeon had to say to a reporter from NPR:

Do the results mean you should cut back on mouthwash swilling? To learn more, we spoke with Bhuvanesh Singh, a head and neck cancer surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

What are the known risk factors for oral cancer?

Tobacco and alcohol. Independently they have a carcinogenic effect. The effect when used in combination is multiplicative rather than additive. Smokers and drinkers get a big jump in risk for oral cancer.

The other major factor is betel nut. The most common cancer in young men in countries like India and Pakistan is oral cancer, attributed to chewing betel nut or paan [a preparation that includes betel nuts and betel nut leaves].

Should poor oral hygiene and mouthwash be added to the cancer risk list?

Once you get beyond those three factors, the other ones are more difficult to link causally. Poor oral hygiene and use of mouthwash certainly may be contributing, but the extent is difficult to define.

People who tend to be smokers or drinkers are the ones who tend not to take care of hygiene in general. That’s not a universal statement, but in general. Whether poor oral hygiene caused the oral cancer is a little more difficult to define. Studies say the bacterial population in the oral cavity may be contributing to development of oral cancers, but these aren’t large enough to establish a definitive association. I would call this a soft factor. The same goes for mouthwash use. There is a potential association there. I tell my oral cancer patients to not use alcohol-containing mouthwashes — the alcohol is probably the main carcinogen to worry about. But I don’t tell them not to use mouthwash at all. There is no known harm to non-alcohol-containing mouthwashes.

To read the rest of the interview click over to NPR.