Does mouthwash cause cancer? According to a study published in the Dental Journal of Australia mouthwashes are a risk for oral cancer because they contain alcohol. Why is alcohol a problem? Because it alters the barrier function of the mucous membranes lining the mouth – making it easier for cancer causing substances to reach the deeper tissue. It also allows a cancer causing substance called acetaldehyde, a substance that forms when alcohol breaks down, to damage the oral cavity.

Does Mouthwash Cause Cancer?: A Study

The author of this study on mouthwash and cancer undertook a study involving 3,210 people to look at the link between mouthwash and cancers of the head and neck. He found that those who used mouthwash daily had greater odds of developing head and neck cancers with the greatest risk seen in smokers – who had a whopping nine times higher risk if they used mouthwash every day. The author believes that alcohol based mouthwash allows nicotine to penetrate the mucous lining of the mouth where it can more easily cause cancer.

Does Mouthwash Really Cause Cancer?

Not all scientists are convinced. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association reviewed nine separate studies looking at the association between mouthwash and cancer. Six out of the nine studies showed no association at all and even the three studies that showed positive results were not deemed credible due to recall bias. Their conclusion? The American Dental Association found no credible link between mouthwash use and cancer risk. They recommended that dentists continue to allow their patients to use mouthwash ‘” even ones containing alcohol.

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Alcohol Based Mouthwashes May Be Associated With Other Problems

Although there’s no strong evidence that mouthwash causes cancer, alcohol based mouthwashes can dry out the mouth which increases the risk of tooth decay and bad breath since there’s less saliva to flush out bacteria. For this reason, it’s best to choose an alcohol free mouthwash with as few preservatives as possible. It’s also possible to make your own alcohol-free mouth wash at home using herbs and other natural ingredients. You can find a variety of recipes online. Herbal mouthwashes are ideal for smokers since they don’t disrupt the natural mucous barrier in the mouth which allows nicotine to penetrate deeper into the tissues of the mouth and throat.

Do Mouthwashes Cause Cancer?

It seems unlikely that standard mouthwashes ‘” even ones containing alcohol ‘” are a strong risk factor for oral cancer. On the other hand, alcohol based mouthwashes cause dryness of the mouth which can lead to other problems. Use a natural, alcohol-free mouthwash whenever possible or save money and make your own.


J Am Dent Assoc, Vol 134, No 8, 1079-1087.