Researchers from Melbourne and Queensland Universities’ dental schools have reviewed the literature and found a link between oral cancer and alcohol containing mouthwashes.
Almost 900 Australians are diagnosed with oral (mouth and tongue) cancer each year. Unfortunately only half of patients survive 5 years after diagnosis despite advances in therapies.
Dr Andrew Dean, Oncologist and Medical Director of the Virtual Medical Centre said "it is known that there are a number of risk factors for oral cancer, including smoking, alcohol, tobacco chewing and betel nut chewing, also drinking petrol."
Previous research found that there was 50 times the risk of developing oral cancer in heavy alcohol drinkers and smokers. Alcohol consumption alone also puts patients at risk of developing pre-cancerous mouth lesions (abnormal tissues).
In the laboratory, scientists have shown that in animals, short-term alcohol use damaged oral tissues, with higher concentrations of alcohol causing more damage.
The alcohol content in mouthwashes ranges from 0-26% alcohol. Over the last 25 years, scientists have debated the link between daily mouthwash use and oral cancer. However, there is now sufficient evidence available to confirm the link.
Dr Dean recommends "daily or multiple daily use of a strong alcoholic mouthwash should probably be avoided.
"People who smoke are likely to be at particular risk and so the practice of masking the smell of cigarette smoke by frequent multiple uses per day should definitely be avoided.
"People who do use an alcoholic mouthwash should rinse their mouth well with clean water after the mouthwash which might reduce some of the risk."
There has been no link between mouthwashes that do not contain alcohol and oral cancer.
Dr Dean advises "anyone with a mouth ulcer that is slow to heal, or a new lump in the mouth should see their GP, a dentist, an oral surgeon or an ear nose and throat surgeon for advice."
(Reference: McCullough, MJ. & Farah, CS. (2008). The role of alcohol in oral carcinogenisis with particular reference to alcohol-containing mouthwashes. Australian Dental Journal, 53, 302-5.)