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Dr. David Ward | Is Frequent Mouthwash Use Linked to Oral Cancer? in Big Spring


1500 Scurry St.
Big Spring TX 79720

(432) 267-1677

Family, Sedation & Laser Dentistry; Orthodontics; Implants

Is Frequent Mouthwash Use Linked to Oral Cancer?


Is Frequent Mouthwash Use Linked to Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer is back in the news this week. You may have seen stories about Jim Kelly, the Buffalo Bill’s NFL Hall of Fame former quarterback whose life threatening oral cancer has spread. Also, in the last few days, news has come out in many media outlets about a study that seems to connect frequent use of alcohol containing mouthwashes (most do contain alcohol) with an increased risk for oral cancer.

The study was conducted in Europe and published in the prestigious Journal of Clinical Oncology (oncology is the field of medicine dealing with cancer). Actually the study was not about mouthwash use in particular, but rather about oral care (or lack of it) and its effect on oral cancer risk.

What has received the headlines though is the study’s finding that frequent use of alcohol containing mouthwashes may slightly increase oral cancer risk.

So what is meant by frequent? In this case they mean more than 3 times a day every day. That’s a lot of mouthwash. Most people do not use it that often. So why did these people? The most likely reason is to cover up odor from untreated dental problems.

The conditions in the mouth that tend to produce odor are heavy plaque and tartar, large cavities, gingivitis, periodontitis, and accumulated bacteria and debris on the back of the tongue. Sinus infections and some other medical problems can also cause breath issues. Your dentist will tell you that frequent alcohol based mouth wash use will actually worsen these odors within a few minutes after each rinse. That’s because the alcohol in the mouthwash actually dries out the oral tissues, which then actually increases the odor.

In fact, the main findings of the study show that oral cancer risk mainly increases because of those other dental problems. Gingivitis (gum disease) and Periodontitis (disease of the gum and bone around the teeth) doubled the risk. Just poor oral hygiene and rarely seeing a dentist statistically also doubled the risk.

So it appears that the chronic inflammation that accompanies poor oral hygiene, gingivitis, and periodontitis is the culprit in raising risk of oral cancer. Of course, as we have discussed in previous articles, inflammation of the oral tissues caused by these problems is also associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, Alzheimer’s, some other cancers, and premature births as well.

Now the main risk factors for oral cancer have been known for many years…heavy smoking and/or heavy drinking. Another factor that has come to light recently is human papilloma virus (HPV) which is transmitted via oral sex or potentially by kissing someone who acquired it that way.

Sometimes someone with no risk factors will develop oral cancer. The sister of a former employee of mine had no risk factors and eventually died from oral cancer. This illustrates another reason why everyone needs to have an annual dental checkup.

One thing your dentist is doing when you see him or her for your is an oral cancer exam. They may not tell you what they are doing, but they should be taking a good look at all your tissue. The most common oral cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, arises near the surface of the tissue. Unfortunately, it quickly invades the deeper tissues. The most common site is the back of the tongue, but it can arise anywhere.

Squamous cell cancer of the skin is usually caught early and treated successfully. In the mouth, however, it is often quite deadly because it is usually not detected until it is fairly advanced. That’s because it’s usually in the back of a dark place that only a dentist or hygienist can see it.

Other oral cancers can arise in the jaw bones. These are best detected with x-rays or CT scans. One type of cancer in the bone can start in the follicle (sack) surrounding an impacted tooth.

As with all cancers, the earlier it is detected, the better the cure rate. You probably will not have symptoms to make you suspect that you might have oral cancer until it is too late. Even people with no teeth and full dentures should be seeing their dentist yearly for an oral cancer exam.

Dr. David Ward is a comprehensive general dentist in Big Spring. He provides preventive, restorative, surgical, and implant therapy, as well as laser treatment (LANAP) for periodontitis.

Big Spring Dentist | Is Frequent Mouthwash Use Linked to Oral Cancer?. David Ward is a Big Spring Dentist.