The Hidden Dangers of Traditional Mouthwash: Should You Be Concerned?

The Hidden Dangers of Traditional Mouthwash: Should You Be Concerned?

Using mouthwash might feel like a fresh finish to your oral hygiene routine, but recent studies suggest it could pose unexpected health risks. Though millions of people use mouthwash daily to fight bad breath and gum issues, emerging research warns that this habit might be doing more harm than good.

Unveiling the Risks

A recent Belgian study, initially exploring the impact of mouthwash on STI risks, discovered alarming results. Men using Listerine Cool Mint daily for three months showed increased levels of bacteria linked to oesophageal and colorectal cancers. This rise in harmful bacteria, fusobacterium nucleatum and streptococcus anginosus, could be attributed to the mouthwash’s alcohol, antiseptics, and flavourings altering the mouth's microbiome.

Renowned oncologist Professor Karol Sikora explains that these ingredients might change cell growth patterns, potentially increasing cancer risks. Additionally, alcohol-containing mouthwashes produce acetaldehyde, a chemical believed to be carcinogenic, as noted by Dr. Zoe Brookes from the University of Plymouth.

It is important to note, however, that there is conflicting evidence around this. While some studies highlight a link between mouthwash and cancer, others remain inconclusive. A 2023 review pointed out the limited and conflicting evidence on this issue, emphasising the need for more research before drawing definitive conclusions.

Beyond Cancer: Other Health Concerns

Frequent mouthwash use is also linked to other health issues, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Dr. Mia Burleigh from the University of the West of Scotland explains that mouthwash can reduce the production of nitric oxide, a crucial compound for glucose metabolism and cardiovascular health, by killing beneficial bacteria in the mouth.

The Importance of a Healthy Oral Microbiome

Maintaining a balanced oral microbiome is essential for overall health. The mouth is home to a diverse community of bacteria that play vital roles in digestion, disease prevention, and maintaining the health of teeth and gums. Disrupting this delicate balance with frequent mouthwash use can have far-reaching consequences.

  1. Prevents Disease: A healthy oral microbiome helps prevent oral diseases like cavities and gum disease by keeping harmful bacteria in check.
  2. Supports Digestion: Beneficial bacteria in the mouth begin the digestive process, breaking down food particles and aiding in the production of digestive enzymes.
  3. Boosts Immune System: The oral microbiome acts as a first line of defense against pathogens, preventing them from entering the body and causing infections.
  4. Reduces Inflammation: A balanced microbiome can reduce inflammation in the mouth and throughout the body, potentially lowering the risk of chronic diseases.

Safer Alternatives

If you're concerned about these risks, consider switching to an alcohol-free mouthwash such as Laro’s Active Mouth Rinse unless an alcohol based wash has been prescribed for specific oral health issues. Proper oral hygiene, such as regular brushing and interdental cleaning, remains the best defence against dental problems. Alternative quick tips for maintaining fresh breath include:

  • Chewing sugar-free gum: Stimulates saliva production.
  • Drinking plenty of water: Keeps your mouth hydrated.
  • Eating nitrate-rich vegetables: Beetroot and spinach help balance mouth bacteria.
  • Brushing and flossing regularly: Essential for removing plaque and food particles.


While mouthwash can offer temporary freshness, its potential health risks warrant careful consideration. Opting for alcohol-free versions or focusing on traditional oral hygiene practices may be the safest bet for maintaining both a healthy mouth and overall well-being. Additionally, nurturing a balanced oral microbiome is crucial for not just oral health, but for preventing broader health issues and ensuring your body's first line of defence is strong.


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