Dangers of mouthwash up for debate

People should speak with their dentist if they have any concerns about using mouthwashes that contain alcohol, the Ministry of Health says.

The advice follows a recently published article in the Dental Journal of Australia highlighting the increasing risks of oral cancer due to long-term use of the wash.

The ministry's chief dental officer Robin Whyman said people should speak with their dentist or doctor if they were going to use the product over a long period of time.

"We do know that excessive drinking and smoking increase the risk of developing oral cancer.

"But it has yet to be established whether the use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes is a risk factor for oral cancer."

A literature review published in an American dental journal in 2003 also looked at the issue and concluded that, based on most available studies, it was unlikely that using mouthwashes containing alcohol would increase the risk of oral cancer.

"Drinking alcohol and using it as a mouthwash means the alcohol is used differently - alcohol that is consumed flows over the lining of the mouth many times over a repeated time frame.

"Mouthwashes are used for relatively short periods, perhaps once or twice a day. We do not know whether these differences are important," Dr Whyman said.

Australia's peak body representing dentists said there was no definite proof that alcohol contained in mouthwash products could cause cancer.

Neil Hewson from the Australian Dental Association said the study was "very interesting" but it indicated there should be more research.

However, most people don't actually need mouthwash if they practise good brushing and flossing, he said.

"So consult your dentist to see whether you are a high-risk group and (whether) you do need a mouthwash."

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