What is the best mouthwash?
November 3, 2006 7:01 AM   Subscribe

If gargling hydrogen peroxide will give me cancer, and mouthwash contains alcohol which promotes bad breath, is there anything out that that is actually effective at preventing bad breath and won't kill me?

I have been gargling with half water half 3% hydrogen peroxide for a while, but I am troubled by rumors of hydrogen peroxide's cancer causing effects. I have often read that mouthwashes such as Listerine contain alcohol, which dries out the mouth and actually helps bacteria grow.

What do you, fellow MeFites, use in the morning that gives good results and doesn't cause cancer?
posted by Paul KC to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This may be slightly off point. I find that if you scrape the back of your tongue with the head of a spoon two or three times a day, it usually keeps your breath at an acceptable level.

What you do when you scrape your tongue is clear out a lot of the bad breath bacteria causing you to have the dragon.

It's not a time consuming process. I usually make three passes with the spoon, and I'm good for about 6 hours.
posted by reenum at 7:12 AM on November 3, 2006

A few tricks for reducing bad breath:

• Eat less meat
• Floss regularly; use toothpicks after meals
• Clean the back of your tongue and roof of your mouth as well as you can with your toothbrush

I found I often got colds about a week after starting to gargle with alcohol washes. I suspect that living with some good, if mildly smelly bacteria is the price paid for better overall health.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:13 AM on November 3, 2006

I've been using Tom's of Maine natural alcohol-free anticavity mouthwash for dry mouths, and I really like it. I bought it because mint flavors make my nose and mouth burn and then I gag; the lemon-lime flavor is pain-free and not gross. I'm not current on whether fluoride kills you in any particular way, but this does have it in it.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:19 AM on November 3, 2006

where did you read about hydrogen peroxide causing cancer - searching google only shows that it's being used as an intravenous cure for cancer.
posted by any major dude at 7:19 AM on November 3, 2006

Yeah, I brush my tongue and the roof of my mouth (although that tickles!)
posted by muddgirl at 7:20 AM on November 3, 2006

I floss once a day, brush my teeth and tongue twice a day. That seems to do the trick.
posted by rocketman at 7:21 AM on November 3, 2006

Got a link to the source on the Hydrogen Peroxide causes cancer info? I too rinse with a 50/50 mix of HP and water ever morning. I just did a quick Google search and the top 20 links were mostly to sites claiming that Hydrogen Peroxide cures cancer, not causes it.
posted by COD at 7:21 AM on November 3, 2006

There are worse things than alcoholic mouthwash--namely the nonalcoholic varieties. I've tried several, like Crest or Tom's of Maine, they tend to get all frothy and for me personally, causes bad aftertaste (i'm sure this means bad breath). It is like chewing sugar free gum instead of gargling in the weird sticky feeling your mouth has afterwards.

So I use blue listerine now, whenever I feel the need. Maybe I'd have crappier breath if it was an every day thing or I did it straight instead of watered down.

(Also, I may be misunderstanding some fact about different types of alcohols here, but wouldn't anything that kills bacteria immediately promote the growth of bacteria in your mouth? Limited real estate, and all?)
posted by shownomercy at 7:23 AM on November 3, 2006

I just searched PubMed and couldn't find any literature related to cancer, using a mix of search terms including "hydrogen peroxide", "radical", "cancer", "mouth cancer", "mouthwash".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:25 AM on November 3, 2006

Response by poster: any major dude and COD
I could have sworn that when I googled it a few months ago, I found multiple articles that said something to the effect that dentists recommend using hydrogen peroxide after major mouth surgery, but only for a limited time, as the free radicals responsible for killing bacteria also have the unfortunate effect of altering DNA (and thereby causing cancer). Like you, I can no longer find those articles but I did find this which mentions the part free radicals play in cancer, but they don't explicitly link hydrogen peroxide, however.
posted by Paul KC at 7:31 AM on November 3, 2006

Response by poster: ctrl+f for "hydrogen peroxide"
posted by Paul KC at 7:34 AM on November 3, 2006

Here is some more information on rinsing with hydrogen peroxide.

The NJ Factsheet on hydrogen peroxide clearly states that a 100% concentration, it is a mutagen (able to cause damage within the structure of the cell, at the DNA level). However, the factsheet further states that the listed health effects are unlikely to occur with commercial solutions (by which they mean the concentration available at the drugstore, which is usually a 3 to 5% solution in water). In other words, they are saying that people who must work with hydrogen peroxide at a 100% concentration must avoid contact because at that concentration it is clearly hazardous, but is unlikely to cause harm at low concentrations.
posted by chrisroberts at 7:39 AM on November 3, 2006

Baking soda toothpaste does the trick for me. I like Toms of Maine, because it doesn't have teh saccharine mint bomb flavor.

I've never used any mouthwash -- every time I smell it on someone's breath, I secretly wonder whether they've been sipping schnapps in the car on the way to work...
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:43 AM on November 3, 2006

I cry bullshit ... not to you but to the "causes cancer" claim.

Although these days there is a study showing everything I do seems to cause cancer in some lab test.

Hydrogen peroxide is a highly effective mouthwash. Period. Listerine is minty but not so useful. Stick with the Hydrogen peroxide
posted by jannw at 7:47 AM on November 3, 2006

I've never tried this, the idea was sparked by the previous comment. But if you are worried about hydrogen peroxide, I wonder if rinsing with a baking soda and water solution would be beneficial?
posted by COD at 7:47 AM on November 3, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers, everyone. Perhaps I will stick with the half water half hydrogen peroxide solution, as the links you have posted have somewhat allayed my fears. Please keep those answers coming!
posted by Paul KC at 7:54 AM on November 3, 2006

Actually, I've heard this from a few dentists and assistants, that if you start drinking more water in general it will get rid of it. The bad breath isn't necessarily in your mouth but in your stomach. Hydrating more will improve it.
posted by blueyellow at 8:00 AM on November 3, 2006

mentions the part free radicals play in cancer

Free radicals are also an essential part of redox cellular signalling. NO, for instance, produces radicals, is a critical signalling molecule, and is toxic to many microorganisms.

Your saliva glands secrete nitrates, which are then reduced to nitrites on your tongue by an anaerobic bacterial biofilm. The nitrite is then washed down to your stomach and reduced to radical-happy NO, where it helps sterilise food and kill undesired microbes. A lack of NO may also downregulate gastric mucousal secretions with less than optimal results.

Unless you've got an obvious thrush infection or similar on your tongue, I think that advice to brush your tongue is just messing with a quite well-designed biological symbiosis that benefits you. Eating less pungent foods and flossing is best.
posted by meehawl at 8:06 AM on November 3, 2006

You want results, try this. This is for real problem cases. Apparently the trick is chlorine dioxide, an oxidizing agent which is being used in a growing number of sanitizing, deodorizing, disinfecting, and cleaning applications. It attacks all the wee beasties in your mouth, who are essentially farting, I guess. This doctor has loads of literature and info. Don't know if you have a tough problem, and this stuff is expensive, but check it out.
posted by kookoobirdz at 8:16 AM on November 3, 2006

Floss, floss, floss.

Especially after meals.

Personally, I've found a direct correlation between how often I floss and how fresh my breath is.
posted by lyam at 8:19 AM on November 3, 2006

I just started drinking green tea in copious amounts and notice that a side effect is fresher breath.
posted by any major dude at 8:36 AM on November 3, 2006

Bread causes kidney cancer, supposedly. I am disturbed that bacteria are farting in my mouth.

Also, using a mouthwash, diluted, with a water pik seems to help.
posted by mecran01 at 8:42 AM on November 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

What works for me :

- Brush my tongue when I brush my teeth.
- Chew sugarless gum after meals. This removes any pieces of food that would otherwise stick around my mouth and provide a hearty feast for stinky bacteria.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:46 AM on November 3, 2006

Slight derail: I work in a Cancer Research Lab and we use a solution of 5%-8% hydrogen peroxide to induce DNA damage (oxidative damage for those that care) in cells. DNA damage is a known precursor for cancer, ergo hydrogen peroxide causes cancer.

Here is a paper (off PubMed) that is a review of reactive oxygen species (like hydrogen peroxide - or rather what its metabolized into inside the cell) and cancer.
posted by LunaticFringe at 8:50 AM on November 3, 2006

Green tea with ginger works well for me. Ginger has long been used for this. As a side note, some other benefits of consuming ginger are better digestion and a natural solution to motion sickness.
posted by birdlips at 9:01 AM on November 3, 2006

It should also be noted that as a happy consequence of our history of rapacious endosymbiosis, we eucaryotes possess peroxisomes, a cell organelle specifically designed to deal with the consequences of aerobic respiration and the ubiquity of free radicals. At a low concentration, a peroxide is harming the procaryote microbes a lot more than it is affecting your own cells. Furthermore, the sequestration of eucaryote DNA within the a nuclear membrane compared with the membraneless procaryotes delivers further protection from oxidation.
posted by meehawl at 9:57 AM on November 3, 2006

Not a mouthwash, but I am virtually addicted to tea tree oil toothpics. The flavor is pretty intense, and the toothpicks themselves last 20-30 minutes of chewing. A pack of 100 runs about $3 at a food co-op or Whole Foods.

Looking further at the Thursday Plantation site, it appears that they have a alcohol-free mouthwash, too.
posted by cog_nate at 10:53 AM on November 3, 2006

is there anything out that that is actually effective at preventing bad breath and won't kill me?

yes, there, is, but you probably won't like it. and you'll need your dentist's recommendation, as well. but if your bad breath is caused by gum disease (and gum disease may be as common as HPV), then you'll get to enjoy the delight that is a periodontal bone graft.

but don't worry! it's relatively minor surgery, and there's no general anaesthesia, so it sounds much worse than it actually is. i've had three so far, and my breath is minty fresh! here, smell!! . . .
posted by deejay jaydee at 11:03 AM on November 3, 2006

Just for the record, brushing yr tongue as far back as you can is tops. The bulk of stank-causing bacteria thrive in the vaginations back there.

Just wanted to say vaginations. Read it last summer. They're in your mouth
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:06 AM on November 3, 2006


I think the foulest bad breath is from people who don't eat regularly, particularly from not eating breakfast. It's a very specific empty-stomach smell, almost like... well... the smell of fecal matter (to my nose.) Freshly brushed teeth do not hide this smell -- it comes straight from the gut. So eat breakfast and spare the rest of us in the office first-thing.
posted by loiseau at 12:57 PM on November 3, 2006

I've tried TriOral and SmartMouth, and they work beautifully. Both are alcohol free, and, with regular rinsing, you will be rid of morning breath forever. (I am not sure about cancer causing ingredients, however.)
posted by Gable Oak at 1:08 PM on November 3, 2006

I should also mention that TriOral tastes like "nothing" so it's really useful after you've eaten onions, garlic, or other strong foods. It gets rid of the food tastes/smells in your mouth without making you smell like a mouthwash alcoholic. (I really like their mints for occasions when I can't carry around two pump bottles of mouthwash.)

SmartMouth is similar, but tastes like "lightly minty nothing."
posted by Gable Oak at 1:52 PM on November 3, 2006

You could gargle with salt water. Kills bacteria (often recommended for sore throats) and hopefully won't cause cancer.
posted by blue grama at 5:48 AM on November 4, 2006

Also try Biotene mouthwash - it has no alcohol.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:42 AM on November 4, 2006

Getting into this late. I heard on the radio or read somewhere that DRINKING or INJECTING via syringe hydrogen peroxide can cause cancer...
posted by stratastar at 8:30 AM on November 9, 2006

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