Should You Use a Mouthwash?

Dental Revelations Blog-1

Yes and no.

If you are a patient and you ask this question from two dentists there is a BIG chance that you will get two answers. The other shows you the green light and the other the red.

There is no consensus amongst the dental professionals about the recommendations. Even the professors in dentistry argue about the recommendations publicly. They give statements to the press for and against the mouthwashes after a new study about the risks of the mouthwashes is released. Some negate all the study’s conclusions.

So no wonder it leaves patients confused if us professionals are too.

Well Should You?

Generally no.

If you have a good oral hygiene – brushing twice a day and cleaning between the teeth most nights – and you use a fluoride toothpaste there’s no reason to use a mouthwash.

But there are exceptions – naturally!

If you suffer

  • from a gum disease you might be advised to use a mouthwash containing chlorhexidine (CHX) during and after a periodontal treatment. It is a very effective ingredient that kills bacteria. But remember to use it only as advised by a dental professional
  • from an extreme dryness of the mouth through an illness (e.g. Sjögren’s syndrome) you might be advised to use fluoride mouthwash regularly to prevent decay

Remember that in both of these cases you should choose the alcohol-free version.

Dangers of Using a Mouthwash

Oral cancer

If you use a mouthwash that has alcohol (ethanol, but I’m going to use the word alcohol instead) levels of 25% or higher and you have been using it since your teenage years the studies state that you have higher chances for getting an oral cancer.

One leading brand (the one that rhymes with word blistering) can have alcohol levels as high as 26% and this high level is thought to be toxic for gingival tissues when used in abusive amounts. But – and it is a big but – why do they add alcohol to the mouthwashes when it is a known fact that for alcohol to be toxic for bacteria it must be used at 40%? This means that there is no help from alcohol levels as low as 26% but it can still be harmful to the gingival tissues.

Discolorations

If you use a mouthwash containing CHX for a longer period of time it will stain your teeth. Stains can be removed but it will cost you of course.

In my professional life I have noticed that for some unknown reason the leading blistering-rhyming mouthwash stains the teeth with some patients eventhough it doesn’t contain the CHX. Actually the looks of the stains is different to those that build up from the CHX. After a thorough interview of the patient no other explanation was found to the stains than the mouthwash the patient had been using. The staining stopped once the patients stopped using the mouthwash.

Dry mouth and bad breath (halitosis)

Alcohol in mouthwashes can dry the mouth and the dry mouth is prone to halitosis. People often seek help from the mouthwash for the halitosis but it can actually make the matters worse.

Lichen planus

If you have been diagnosed with lichen planus you should not use any mouthwashes unless advised by a professional. But even in this case you should not use mouthwashes with alcohol.

WELL SHOULD I?

Wouldn’t it be the wisest thing to do if you DIDN’T use a mouthwash whilst us professionals argue about the health risks of the mouthwashes? It’s your health that is gravely at risk if the alcohol in mouthwashes is proven to be harmful.

I have seen patients who are going through the cancer treatments for oral cancer and I have seen the 50% of them who survived the cancer. I can tell you that it’s not a pretty sight. Not during the treatments or after surviving it.

Why would you play a Russian roulette over your health? I wouldn’t and therefore I am not using any mouthwashes.

If You Still Want to Use a Mouthwash

Always choose the alcohol-free fluoride mouthwash.

Remember

  • it can stain your teeth
  • it never replaces brushing or cleaning between the teeth
  • that in many countries the mouthwashes are considered as cosmetics by law. In some countries they are considered both cosmetics and drugs. But when considered as cosmetics they are not that highly regulated as drugs are. So what you could actually be rinsing in your mouth is a cocktail of chemicals that no-one knows (or cares) how they affect the health
  • that if you are also a heavy smoker it increases the risk of getting an oral cancer. If on top of that you are a high consumer of alcoholic drinks you are even at higher risk

Conclusion

I really don’t get it how we cannot decide if the mouthwashes containing alcohol should be recommended or not. It’s just ridiculous that even inside one dental practice opposite recommendations are given to the patients.

What all of us professionals agree is the fact that alcohol is an aldehyde and it is metabolised by the oral bacteria to acetaldehyde which is carcinogenic in humans. Carcinogens cause cancer! And yet we argue about the risks of using an alcohol containing mouthwash.

What are the reasons behind all this? Some have suggested that some of the dental professionals have financial commitments to the manufacturers of the mouthwashes. I must emphasise that this is a hearsay. But if you have read my previous post about the integrity amongst dental professional you understand that everything is possible.

If you are interested to read about groundbreaking study about the risks of using the alcohol containing mouthwashes (one that caused a mayhem amongst dental professionals) visit here.

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Alcohol – The Feared Subject

Dental Revelations Blog-1044

About 60 year-old man came to see me one morning and complained that every once in a while a layer of skin comes off inside his mouth and no-one has been able to tell why. He was concerned and felt that it was happening at that very moment as well.

I took a look at the soft tissues before the treatment and asked if he had used a mouthwash the same morning or the night before. Negative. I asked if he had drank wine last night. The patient’s face went serious and he said he had been drinking whiskey last night. I went on telling without any judgement how alcohol effects the mouth and body – the risks in mouth and the age related risks. He looked like he had eureka moment and was very happy but also shaken as he realised that his alcohol use could be damaging his health in more ways than just one.

Now, this blog post is full of information for dental professionals but there are links that are useful for the patients as well. I will give advice to the patients at the end of this post so move on over there if you want to skip the professional part.

Fear of Asking

Us professionals seem to find it hard to discuss about patient’s alcohol consumption. For some reason we think that alcohol consumption is too personal question to ask. Sometimes also the patients think the same which makes it even more difficult question to ask. But we ask about illnesses, smoking, diet and oral hygiene habits. Why not about alcohol?

Everyone knows that smoking can cause oral cancer. But not so many know that alcohol does the same. And even fewer knows that alcohol and cigarettes combined raise the risk of developing oral cancer many times higher. So dental professionals are on the frontline of preventing oral cancer. This means that asking about alcohol consumption should be a routine thing to do and I’m going to help you with that.

  1. When interviewing the patient about his medical history, oral hygiene routines and smoking, continue without hesitation How about alcohol? Do you use alcohol? Keep the same tone of voice as if you were asking did you watch the footie last night?

This is how the conversation continues:

Patient: Yes, sometimes.
You: How often would you say you drink per week?
P: When we go out after work.
Y: How often did you go out last week?
P: Last week we went out almost every night.
Y: What do you normally drink?
P: Beer.
Y: How many do you drink on your regular night out?
P: Normally 3 or 4 pints and on weekends it can be a lot more…

When you engage patient into discussing about alcohol consumption you are kind of evaluating the patient’s attitude towards the subject. Is he co-operative or defensive? If the latter, you need to advance with very small steps. A piece of information here, a piece there. Whenever the patient is ready to take in information about alcohol.

If the patient is co-operative (you would be surprised how many are!), you can move on to sum up the alcohol units the patient consumed the last week and then give information about how it affects his health. Before you can do this you need to know the facts.

2. Learn the numbers and facts behind the risks of excessive alcohol consumption

The recommended low risk (of developing an alcohol related illnesses) daily units are:

healthy women 0-1 units
healthy men 0-2 units
65+ year-olds no more than 0-2 units (no more than 7 per week)

Learn these by heart or print them out (please note, that the recommendations can vary in different countries).

The oral cancer’s death rate is nearly 50%.

Alcohol is an aldehyde and it is metabolised by oral bacteria to acetaldehyde which is carcinogenic in humans.

This is very short but effective list. With this little information you can have a significant impact on patient’s alcohol consumption.

3. Be a therapist if needed

More than once I have been in a situation with a patient when the patient opens up about his life when we discuss about alcohol. There have been patients who have thought by themselves that they are drinking too much. Some tell the reasons behind them. All they need at this point is that someone listens.

But if you feel like the patient needs more advice and guidance, remember to ask
Do you mind me giving you an advice?

People generally respect you more if you don’t offer advice without asking. Especially when it is about alcohol. Have phone numbers at hand for local AA and offer them if needed.

4. If you didn’t ask about alcohol consumption

Do ask about alcohol every time when

  • there is no improvement on oral hygiene routine despite a great effort, especially if there is lot of plaque every time
  • the soft tissues are bright red and the patient is not using mouthwashes (and even if he is, mention also that alcohol can irritate the soft tissues no matter how it enters the mouth)
  • the mouth is very dry and no other reason is found for it

Reminder to All Dental Professionals

Do check the soft tissues and tongue every time you see the patient. It doesn’t take long and you might be saving somebody’s life. No matter if you are a nurse, hygienist or dentist. All of us can tell if something is normal or not and it doesn’t matter who points out the abnormality in the first place.

Have a dental camera or DSLR with macro lens at hand. Learn to use them so that when you see something suspicious, you are able to take a photo of it and compare it the next time.

This is an area in our profession that is too often neglected.

Information for the Patients

You are in good hands when you are interviewed thoroughly on your very first visit and  and every time when you have your check-up done. If you only needed to fill in a medical history form and no-one asks further questions, it’s not a very good sign. The professionals treating you are not looking after you very well.

Please do take our questions as they are. They are questions for your best interest and health and for good quality of treatment. We need to repeat these questions over and over again every time you come in for your regular check-up.

We will ask about subjects (like alcohol consumption) you would rather not discuss with anyone but please do not hide anything or lie. Most often we can see from the patient’s mouth if we were not told the truth about certain subjects like:

smoking
alcohol consumption
how often you clean between the teeth
do you brush your teeth regularly
certain illnesses

So be honest and don’t be afraid of a judgement. It is not our job to do.


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