Dental expert disputes mouthwash link to cancer

A dental professor is questioning a study linking mouthwashes containing alcohol to an increased risk of mouth cancer.

Prof Damien Walmsley, scientific adviser to the British Dental Association (BDHF) was commenting on recent research that said the most popular mouthwashes contained higher concentrations of alcohol than drinks such as wine or beer.

The findings were published in the Dental Journal of Australia.

The scientists found evidence that the ethanol in mouthwash was allowing cancer-causing substances to permeate the lining of the mouth more easily and cause harm.

But Prof Walmsley says: ‘This paper raises interesting issues, but the evidence showing any link between the prolonged use of mouthwashes containing alcohol and oral cancer is not conclusive.

‘Further research is required to establish if there is a genuine connection.’

Professor Michael McCulloch, chairman of the Australian Dental Association’s therapeutics committee and associate professor of oral medicine at Melbourne University, maintains: ‘We see people with oral cancer who have no other risk factors than the use of alcohol-containing mouthwash, so what we’ve done in this study is review all the evidence that’s out there.’

However, a BDHF spokesperson – reiterating Prof Walmsley’s comments – said: ‘The public should not be worried that using mouthwashes containing alcohol will increase their risk of developing mouth cancer.

‘The paper which is being quoted is quite a short review of selective literature on the subject and not an in-depth scientific review of all the available evidence. It appears to draw conclusions based on an examination of a very limited number of the multiple papers and studies published on the subject. 

‘A more thorough review of all the available evidence carried out by leading experts in the field recently, for the British Dental Health Foundation, concluded that there were no proven links between alcohol-containing mouthwashes and an increased incidence of mouth cancer.’

Prof Walmsley concluded: ‘Where patients are in any doubt about using mouthwash, they should consult their dentist.’

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