Will your mouthwash kill you?

January 28, 2014 by Dr Chris Hope
Will your mouthwash kill you?

Once in a while, I come across a news story that catches my professional eye. On a lazy Sunday morning I was treated to a news story that got my full attention because it contained some rather shocking headlines.

  • 'Mouthwashes can raise risk of heart attack and strokes'
  • 'Using mouthwash is a 'disaster' for health, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes'
  • 'Increases the risk of dying from stroke by ten per cent'

This particular story had everything needed to raise my already to even greater levels than the deadly mouthwash I had foolishly inflicted upon myself an hour earlier!

Rational scientist

So with a deep concern for my own imminent death and the mortal danger my wife also subjects herself to on a daily basis, I considered pouring these toxic products down the sink immediately. But, as a rational scientist and oral microbiologist I first took it upon myself to read the research paper this news report was supposed to be based upon (Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 2013, 55: 93-100).

The paper showed that using Corsodyl mouthwash containing 0.2% chlorhexidine reduced physiological levels of nitrite whilst increasing nitrate. In the circulatory system, nitrite causes vasodilation (expansion) of the blood vessels, which in turn causes a lowering of .

The proposed mechanism for this was that the mouthwash reduced the number of 'friendly' bacteria in the mouth capable of reducing dietary nitrate (bad!) to nitrite (good).

Although the core findings of the paper appear credible, the extrapolation that a reduction in the number of bacteria present in the oral cavity was directly responsible for a rise in blood pressure is perhaps less clear.

Nevertheless, the news story conflagrates this to 'mouthwashes can raise risk of and strokes' and claims that they are 'dangerous'. Such one-sided reporting on health issues makes me angry.

What the news report fails to mention are the well-established links between excess dental plaque and tooth decay, periodontal disease and even systemic conditions including cardiovascular disease and preterm birth. The authors of the paper, quite rightly, saw fit to state this in their introduction – but the ignored this counterpoint since it would make their headlines less dramatic.

Health benefits

I hope this particular newspaper doesn't get hold of another little known fact; brushing your teeth, or even eating a hard apple, can force oral bacteria into your bloodstream. But this does NOT mean that brushing your teeth or eating apples is bad for you by any stretch of the imagination.

The well-established health benefits of maintaining good oral hygiene, or consuming apples, far outweigh the often tenuously linked and minimal impact, negatives effects they might also entrain.

Perhaps the best advice for reducing your blood pressure would be to avoid believing everything you read – especially in the tabloids.

Explore further: Here comes the sun to lower your blood pressure

Related Stories

Here comes the sun to lower your blood pressure

January 17, 2014
Exposing skin to sunlight may help to reduce blood pressure and thus cut the risk of heart attack and stroke, a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology suggests.

Drinking cup of beetroot juice daily may help lower blood pressure

April 15, 2013
A cup of beetroot juice a day may help reduce your blood pressure, according to a small study in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

'Smarter' blood pressure guidelines could prevent many more heart attacks and strokes

November 4, 2013
A new way of using blood pressure-lowering medications could prevent more than a fourth of heart attacks and strokes – up to 180,000 a year – while using less medication overall, according to new research from the University ...

Junk food and poor oral health increase risk of premature heart disease

December 2, 2013
The association between poor oral health and increased risk of cardiovascular disease should make the reduction of sugars such as those contained in junk food, particularly fizzy drinks, an important health policy target, ...

No proof that gum disease causes heart disease or stroke: statement

April 18, 2012
Despite popular belief, gum disease hasn't been proven to cause atherosclerotic heart disease or stroke, and treating gum disease hasn't been proven to prevent heart disease or stroke, according to a new scientific statement ...

Experts defend new heart attack prevention advice

November 18, 2013
Heart experts who wrote new guidelines for preventing heart attacks and strokes are defending a formula that some doctors say overestimates risk for certain groups.

Recommended for you

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

App lets patients work alone or with others to prevent, monitor, and reverse chronic disease

July 24, 2017
Lack of patient adherence to treatment plans is a lingering, costly problem in the United States. But MIT Media Lab spinout Twine Health is proving that regular interventions from a patient's community of supporters can greatly ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.