Americans love their oral hygiene. Tooth brushing, flossing, breath mints; it seems we’re all but obsessed with the status of our teeth and the freshness of our mouths. Dentists are undoubtedly happy with this state of affairs. But is it possible we’ve taken things a bit too far?
Americans spend $1.4 billion on oral rinses, for example. But when it comes to mouthwash, intriguing new evidence suggests these pricey oral rinses may have some unintended drawbacks that could impact your health. The irony, of course, is that mouthwash is touted as a product to boost oral hygiene, banish bad breath, and leave you smelling minty fresh.
Mouthwash and Cardiovascular Health
In reality, some of the more potent versions on the market may affect one’s level of heart-friendly Nitric Oxide (NO). NO is a gaseous molecule that’s generated in the body. It’s made on demand from precursors; substances that serve as the raw materials for the production of a given compound. In the case of NO, the precursors are dietary nitrates, from foods such as raw beets, spinach and arugula.
NO is a key messenger molecule that influences blood pressure. It’s so important, the body has evolved at least three different ways—called metabolic pathways—to ensure a steady supply. One of those pathways involves the conversion of dietary nitrates from plant foods. Nitrates are transformed into intermediary compounds called nitrites. This conversion is facilitated by friendly bacteria living in the mouth and circulating in the saliva.
Research indicates that using commercially available mouthwashes reduces the number of these helpful bacteria, which decreases the levels of nitrite in the circulation, despite eating a nitrate-rich meal. That’s because dietary nitrates are transformed by certain types of friendly mouth bacteria into nitrites, which the body can use to make NO.
Mouthwash and Digestive Health
In an animal model of this process, the loss of dietary nitrites due to decreased bacterial activity after using mouthwash resulted in changes that point to potential problems with gut health. That’s because, among other activities, NO supports a healthy stomach lining. This research suggests that simply rinsing with mouthwash daily, as directed, could significantly affect the makeup of the bacteria in your mouth, but not in any useful way.
In the rat experiments, test subjects responded to dietary nitrates with a healthy decrease in blood pressure. But when the animals were subjected to the equivalent of a daily rinse with antiseptic mouthwash, this blood pressure-lowering effect disappeared. Furthermore, the changes in subjects’ gut lining were consistent with a greater risk of developing gastric ulcer.
Of course, scientists are rightly reluctant to draw conclusions about human health based on animal research. But more recently scientists at Duke University conducted tests on human volunteers, and their findings echoed the earlier animal studies. The research also identified antibacterial/chlorhexidine-type rinses as the worst offenders. “This raises potential public health related questions on the appropriate widespread usage of different mouthwash formulations,” investigators concluded.
If you are interested in learning more about the status of your own salivary nitric oxide levels, check out our handy Nitric Oxide Saliva Test Strips, available here.