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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

Is Antiseptic Mouthwash Harming Your Heart?

Last night I saw an ad for a popular antiseptic mouthwash touting its ability to kill  “97% of germs left behind after brushing”. While it may sound like a good thing to have few germs living in our mouths, it’s actually quite a bad idea. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking ALL bacteria are harmful to us when in fact we would be in truly poor health without the beneficial, probiotic bacteria that live in our guts and mouths, on our skins and elsewhere. We need these good bacteria. And when we use antiseptic mouthwashes regularly to kill most of the bacteria in our mouths, we can do serious harm to our health. A good balance of bacteria in our guts is vital to our health … and the same is true of our mouths. (Rowen, 2009)

Chlorhexidine, an antiseptic and disinfectant with a broad spectrum of action, is used in some antiseptic mouthwashes to reduce plaque and kill various bacteria, viruses, bacterial spores and fungi. (Netdoctor, 2013) Chlorhexidine has both bacteriostatic (stops bacteria from reproducing while not otherwise harming them) and bactericidal (kills bacteria) effects, depending on factors such as pH and concentration. It is bactericidal at concentrations as low as 0.05%. (Wikipedia, 2/12/2014) A recent study published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine found that using an antiseptic mouthwash twice daily kills off the good bacteria that help blood vessel walls relax, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke and a variety of other health issues. Approximately one third of American adults have high blood pressure, often without any signs of symptoms. Chronically high blood pressure can damage the body and affects how the blood is pushed against the arterial walls while the heart is pumping blood.  (Borreli, 2014) Using an antiseptic mouthwash kills off  beneficial bacteria living on the back of the tongue, thereby interfering with the body’s ability to create nitric oxide. A reduction in plasma nitrite levels is associated with elevations in blood pressure.

In the research study, volunteers held a nitrite-rich solution in their mouths for 5 minutes. Afterwards, saliva and plasma levels of nitrite were found to be significantly reduced in the subjects who had used a chlorhexidine-based antibacterial mouthwash for seven days prior to the test.  Subjects who used a placebo mouthwash had a substantial increase in their nitrate and nitric oxide load. Furthermore, increased blood pressure was seen within a single day of disruption to the oral microflora and was sustained during the entire week of mouthwash intervention. (Kapil, 2013)

Instead of killing the bacteria in your mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash, keep your breath fresh by eating a diet that includes halitosis-fighting foods:

  • Herbs and spices such as cilantro, spearmint, tarragon, eucalyptus, rosemary and cardamom. Chew on them or make teas by steeping them in hot water. They are also good for your digestion.

  • Fermented, live culture foods such as plain kefir and yogurt. A recent study found that a serving of plain, live-culture yogurt each day reduces the level of odor-causing hydrogen sulfide in the mouth and also helps reduce plaque build up and gum disease.

  • Crunchy, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots and celery. They increase saliva production so keep the mouth moist—and rinsed out.

  • Fruits high in vitamin C such as  berries, citrus fruits and melons. Vitamin C-rich foods create an inhospitable environment for bacteria growth and help prevent both gum disease and gingivitis—both major causes of halitosis. (Gazzaniga, 2014)

If you still want to use a mouthwash to freshen your breath, try one that’s made of natural herbal ingredients instead of a chemical one that bills itself as antiseptic.

It seems the answer to the question above is probably NEVER. See also The Gut Microbiome – Our Second Genome  and  Gut Symbiosis versus Dysbiosis for more information about how the beneficial bacteria in our guts keep us healthy. And see Oral Health and Overall Health for more information specifically about the role of the mouth in our general health.

REFERENCES Borreli, L. (2014). Antiseptic Mouthwash Raises Heart Attack Risk, Blood Pressure: Chlorhexidine Kills Off ‘Good’ Bacteria That Helps Blood Vessels Relax. Medical Daily. See Gazzaniga, M. (2014). Good Taste: Top 5 Foods to Prevent Bad Breath. MSN Healthy Living. See Kapil, V. et al. (2013). Physiological role for nitrate-reducing oral bacteria in blood pressure control. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 55(C): 93–100. See Netdoctor. (2013). Corsodyl mouthwash (chlorhexidine). See Rowen, R.J. (2009). The hidden link between mouthwash and high blood pressure. Dr. Robert J. Rowen’s Second Opinion. See Wikipedia. (2/12/2014). Chlorhexidine. See © Copyright 2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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