A daily gargle after tooth brushing is a long-established finale to a good dental regime, but mouthwash has now been linked to serious increased risk of stroke and heart attack. The mouthwash market, worth at least $300 million a year, is not going to be smiling at the research carried out by Queen Mary University in London, results of which have been published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine journal.
A team, led by Professor Amrita Ahluwalia, discovered that within one day, or even hours, blood pressure in a group of volunteers went up by between 2 and a staggering 3.5 units. The healthy participants in the study were not habitual users of mouthwash. They used the brand Corsodyl, twice a day.
The problem lies within Corsodyl’s powerful antiseptic. It contains 0.2% chlohexadine. This kills off the bugs that assist in the manufacture of nitrite. Nitrite, in turn, helps to keep blood vessels dilated.
Just a two point raise in blood pressure has a dangerous effect on health. It enhances the risk of dying from stroke by 10% and heart disease by 7%. These are generally accepted as two of the biggest killers in the western world. By destroying nitrite-producing bugs, mouthwash can cause nitrite production in the mouth to crash by over 90%. The knock-on effect to blood nitrite levels is that they too fall, by 25%.
It should be pointed out that not all mouthwashes on the market contain chlorhexidine, but many do, including own-brand versions by chemists and drug stores. Listerine is an example of a brand that does not contain chlorhexidine.
Ahluwahlia still does not condone the use of any mouthwash. She still thinks that killing off healthy bacteria is not worth the risk. As for the antiseptic version, unless suffering from an infection, she strongly advises people to cease from using them. Given the results of her research, she questions why anyone would want to.
The dental profession and GlaxoSmithKline, who make Corsodyl, have sounded a note of caution, and reminded customers that this is taken from a very small study. GlaxoSmithKline insist that Corsodyl was only ever intended for short-term plaque control. Their sister product, Corsodyl Daily, only contains 0.06% chlorhexidine.
While Professor Ahluwahlia is calling antiseptic mouthwash a “health disaster” GlaxoSmithKline are unconcerned. They say they have not had reports of increased blood pressure.
All that swilling, swishing and gargling that we all thought was freshening up our mouths, teeth and gums, may in fact by having a deleterious effect on the blood circulation. In Britain, more than half of the adult population are daily users of mouthwash.
The American Dental Association, on their official website, do not recommend use of mouth rinse without a dentist’s advice, but they do say that a dentist may recommend one with “antimicrobial agents” as part of “your daily oral hygiene routine.” They suggest that mouth rinse may offer additional protection against gum disease and cavities, claims that are often made by advertisers too. The specific “anti-gingivitis” (or bad breath) formulas, they go on to say, “reduce bacterial count” and “inhibit bacterial activity.” Continued use of such a product is not endorsed, as there may be an underlying cause.
Is it time to spit it out altogether and cease the daily gargle? According to Professor Ahluwahlia, it is a gamble with cardiac health not to.
By Kate Henderson