woman pouring blue mouthwash into small cup
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 21, 2024 ·  3 min read

Alcohol-Based Mouthwash May Disrupt Oral Microbiome and Increase Risk for Certain Cancers

Recent studies have raised concerns about the potential negative impacts of alcohol-based mouthwash on the oral microbiome and its possible link to an increased risk of certain cancers. Let’s explore the findings of recent research, discuss how alcohol-based mouthwashes may alter the balance of oral bacteria, and the implications for oral and overall health.

The Oral Microbiome: An Overview

woman with an open mouth
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The oral microbiome consists of a diverse community of bacteria that play crucial roles in maintaining oral health. These microorganisms aid in digesting food, protecting against pathogens, and regulating various biological processes. However, disruptions to the oral microbiome like an alcoholic mouthwash can lead to periodontal diseases and other health issues, including some cancers.1

Read More: Daily Activity May Reduce Cancer Risk by 72%

The Impact of Alcohol-Based Mouthwash

Listerine mouthwash
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A study conducted by researchers at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, found significant changes in the oral microbiome of participants who used alcohol-based mouthwash daily for three months.2 The study revealed an increase in two specific bacteria: Fusobacterium nucleatum and Streptococcus anginosus, both of which have been linked to gum disease, esophageal cancer, and colorectal cancer.

Alcohol vs. Alcohol-Free Mouthwash

BANGKOK, THAILAND - MARCH 03: Various brands and flavors of mouth washes fully stocked on the shelves of BigC Extra Petchkasem superstore in Bangkok on March 03, 2018.
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Alcohol-based mouthwashes are widely available and commonly used for their antibacterial properties. However, these mouthwashes can eliminate both harmful and beneficial bacteria, disrupting the delicate balance of the oral microbiome. In contrast, alcohol-free mouthwashes are designed to maintain this balance while still providing antibacterial benefits.

Alcohol-based mouthwashes are widely available, but the public should be aware of the potential implications of long-term use,” explains Dr. Jolein Lauman, a researcher involved in the study. “Ideally, long-term usage should be guided by healthcare professionals”.

Laryngectomy from cancer
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The same study indicated that alcohol-based mouthwash use could increase the risk of certain cancers. Specifically, the increased presence of Fusobacterium nucleatum and Streptococcus anginosus in the oral cavity has been associated with a higher risk of developing esophageal and colorectal cancers. These bacteria are known to create an inflammatory environment that may contribute to cancer development.

The study also noted a decrease in Actinobacteria, a beneficial bacteria strain involved in blood pressure regulation through the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. This reduction could negatively impact cardiovascular health.

Considerations for Mouthwash Use

Young woman using mouthwash indoors, closeup view
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Given these findings, it is crucial to consider the type of mouthwash used, especially for individuals with specific health conditions or those undergoing certain treatments. People with dry mouth, diabetes, or those undergoing radiation treatment may find alcohol-free mouthwashes more suitable.

Read More: Bottle of Wine a Week Equals 5-10 Cigarettes for Cancer Risk, Study Shows

Professional Recommendations and Study Limitations

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Dr. Chris Kenyon, one of the study’s authors, advises caution: “Regular use of alcohol-based mouthwash may be safe for short periods, but based on our findings, I would not recommend long-term use”.

While the study provides valuable insights, it also has limitations. The research focused on a specific group (men who have sex with men) and did not account for participants’ dietary habits or smoking status, which could influence the oral microbiome. Therefore, further research is needed to generalize these findings to the broader population.

The researchers emphasized the need for additional studies to understand the long-term effects of alcohol-based mouthwashes on the oral microbiome and overall health. They suggest that future research should include more diverse populations and consider additional lifestyle factors.3

Conclusion

Portrait of beautiful girl using mouthwash. Isolated on white.
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While alcohol-based mouthwashes are effective at reducing oral bacteria, their potential to disrupt the oral microbiome and increase the risk of certain cancers warrants careful consideration. Healthcare professionals should guide the long-term use of these products, and individuals should be informed about the potential risks and benefits. Opting for alcohol-free alternatives may be a safer choice for maintaining oral and overall health.

Read More: Is Broccoli Better Than Cauliflower? The Real Truth About Cancer Risk, Heart Health and More

Sources

  1. Alcohol-based mouthwash may disrupt oral microbiome, leading to gum disease and certain cancers.” Medical News Today.  Eileen Bailey. June 4, 2024.
  2. Commonly used alcohol-based mouthwash brand may disrupt the balance of your oral microbiome, scientists say.” Medical xpress. June 4, 2024.
  3. The effect of daily usage of Listerine Cool Mint mouthwash on the oropharyngeal microbiome: a substudy of the PReGo trial.” Micro Biology Research. J.G.E. Laumen, et al.