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For the record

Mouthwash and oral cancer risk

Metro1 reported on 12th January 2009 that “using mouthwash can increase the risk of oral cancer by up to nine times” and that alcohol-containing mouthwashes should be taken off the shelves following a review published in the Australian Dental Journal. Professor Ian Needleman, UCL Eastman Dental Institute, Director of the International Centre for Evidence-Based Oral Health (ICEBOH) explains below why the review does not provide sufficient evidence to make such strong claims:

“In this review paper, the authors draw a link between alcohol-containing mouthwashes and an increased risk of developing oral cancer. Although the authors discuss a plausible mechanism for how alcohol may lead to cancer, this does not necessarily mean that the alcohol in mouthwash actually causes oral cancer. Their evidence is based on a small number of studies with conflicting results, and previous reviews of the same evidence have not found a clear link between mouthwash and oral cancer. In addition, some of the evidence is incomplete. For instance, in the largest study that the authors describe, it was not known whether the mouthwashes used contained alcohol or not. Other factors could affect the results such as people who use mouthwash being at greater risk due to poor oral health, or smoking and drinking alcohol.

From the discussion presented in the paper, it is not correct to conclude there is ‘sufficient evidence to accept the proposition that developing oral cancer is increased or contributed to by the use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes’. What is needed to investigate this question is a rigorous evaluation of all of the evidence before anyone sets off the alarm bells.”

1 Mouthwash can raise cancer risk

Author: Sense About Science

Document type: For The Record

Published: 17 April 2009

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