by JASON | 11:53 AM in |

Have you ever read the safety label on the back of your mouthwash bottle?

Wonder why you should promptly call Poison Control if you swallow more than needed for rinsing (less than a mouthful)?

This post is for you...

First formulated by Dr. Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert[2] in 1879 as surgical antiseptic, it was given to dentists for oral care in 1895 and it was the first over-the-counter mouthwash sold in the United States in 1914. The mouthwash was named in honor of Dr. Joseph Lister, pioneer of antiseptic surgery.

According to Freakonomics':

“Listerine was invented in the 19th century as powerful surgical antiseptic. It was later sold, in very distilled form, as floor cleaner and cure for gonorrhea. But it wasn't runaway success until the 1920s, when it was pitched as solution for "chronic halitosis", the faux medical term that the Listerine advertising group created in 1921 to describe bad breath. By naming and thus creating medical condition for which consumers now felt they needed cure, Listerine created market for their mouthwash. Until that time, bad breath was not conventionally considered catastrophe, but Listerine's ad campaign changed that. As the advertising scholar James B. Twitchell writes, "Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis." Listerine's new ads featured forlorn young women and men, eager for marriage but turned off by their mate's rotten breath. "Can I be happy with him in spite of that?" one maiden asked herself. In just seven years, the company's revenues rose from $115,000 to more than $8 million.

From 1921 until the mid-1970s Listerine was also marketed as preventive and remedy for colds and sore throats. In 1976, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that these claims were misleading, and that Listerine had "no efficacy" at either preventing or alleviating the symptoms of sore throats and colds. Warner-Lambert was ordered to stop making the claims, and to include in the next $10.2 million dollars' of Listerine ads specific mention that "contrary to prior advertising, Listerine will not help prevent colds or sore throats or lessen their severity."[3]

1930s advertisements claimed that applying Listerine to the scalp could prevent dandruff.[4]

Listerine was packaged in glass bottle inside corrugated cardboard tube for nearly 80 years before the first revamps were made to the brand; in 1992, Cool Mint Listerine was introduced in addition to the original Listerine Antiseptic formula and, in 1994, both brands were introduced in plastic bottles for the first time. In 1995, FreshBurst was added,[5] then in 2003 Natural Citrus. In 2006 a new addition to the "less intense" variety, Vanilla Mint, was released. Currently, eight different kinds of Listerine are on the market in the U.S. and elsewhere: Original, Cool Mint, FreshBurst, Natural Citrus, Vanilla Mint, Advanced with Tartar Control (Arctic mint), Tooth Defense (mint shield), and Whitening pre-brush rinse (clean mint). The most recent addition is the Listerine Total Care, marketed as the Most Complete Listerine. It claims to reduce plaque, strengthen teeth to prevent cavities, prevent tartar build-up to keep teeth white, prevent gingivitis, and freshen breath for up to 12 hours.


The active ingredients listed on Listerine bottles are menthol, thymol, methyl salicylate, and eucalyptol. Ethanol is present in concentrations of 21.6% in the flavored product and 26.9% in the original gold Listerine Antiseptic. Thymol is an antiseptic, methyl salicylate is cleaning agent, and menthol is local anesthetic. At this concentration, the ethanol serves to dissolve the active ingredients. Contrary to persistent myths, methanol (which is frequently confused with menthol) is not an ingredient.

A Food and Drug Administration Advisory Panel has recommended that the active ingredients in Listerine be classified as Category I (safe and effective) for antiplaque and GAME antigingivitis activity.

The efficacy of the treatment is due mainly to Listerine's liquid properties, as liquids are quite effective at coating most exposed surfaces in the mouth, even between teeth. By the same coin, however, this treatment is generally ineffective at physically removing the plaque buildup and wedged-in food particles that it is intended to neutralize. Listerine is best used in conjunction with brushing and flossing, but not as a replacement.[6]

There has been concern that the use of alcohol-containing mouthwash such as Listerine may increase the risk of developing oral cancer.

Both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the United States National Cancer Institute (NCI) agree that the alcohol contained in antiseptic mouthwash is safe and not a factor in oral cancers. Studies conduced in 1985,[9] 1995,[10] and 2003[11] summarize that alcohol-containing mouth rinses are not associated with oral cancer. However, an extensive study published December 2008 in the Australian Dental Journal concluded that:

“There is now sufficient evidence to accept the proposition that developing oral cancer is increased or contributed to by the use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes. Whilst many of these products may have been shown to be effective in penetrating oral microbial biofilms in vitro and reducing oral bacterial load, it would be wise to restrict their use to short-term therapeutic situations if needed. Perhaps the use of mouthwashes that do not contain alcohol may be equally effective. Further, mouthrinses should be prescribed by dentists, like any other medication. There may well be a reason for the use of alcohol-containing mouthrinses, but only for a particular situation and for a limited and controlled period of time. As such, patients should be provided with written instructions for mouthwash use, and mouthwash use should be restricted to adults for short durations and specific, clearly defined reasons. It is the opinion of the authors that, in light of the evidence currently available of the association of alcohol-containing mouthwashes with the development of oral cancer, it would be inadvisable for oral healthcare professionals to recommend the long-term use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes.[12]

Andrew Penman, chief executive of The Cancer Council New South Wales, called for further research on the matter.[13]

On April 11, 2007 McNeil-PPC disclosed that there were potentially contaminants in all Listerine Agent Cool Blue products sold since its launch in 2006, and that all bottles were being recalled.[14] The recall affects some 4,000,000 bottles sold since that time.[15] According to the company, Listerine Agent Cool Blue is the only product affected by the safety issue and that no other products in the Listerine family were under recall.[14]

Main ingredient is Ethanol (alcohol) and the Active Ingredients are Eucalyptol, Menthol, Methyl salicylate, and Thymol.

Ethanol - Cancer, Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Persistence and bioaccumulation, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Multiple, additive exposure sources, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Enhanced skin absorption.

Thymol - Violations, restrictions & warnings, Neurotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Enhanced skin absorption, Occupational hazards.

Methyl salicylate - Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Violations, restrictions & warnings, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs).

Menthol - Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Multiple, additive exposure sources.

Eucalyptol - One or more in vitro tests on mammalian cells show positive mutation results, One or more animal studies show brain and nervous system effects at moderate doses

According to the Physician's Desk Reference, the mucosal lining inside of the mouth has an absorption efficiency of over 90 percent. Because of this, chemicals in your mouth that are small enough, get into your blood in no time no matter how well you rinse!

Most toothpastes and mouthwashes contain ingredients which are made up of very small molecules, which penetrate through the skin of the mouth, enter the blood stream, and build up in the nervous system, organs and tissues. Also, by excessively using toothpaste with a high abrasive factor, whitening agents or high alcohol mouth rinses, we may be disturbing the oral probiotics and their naturally balanced microenvironment. An unbalanced microenvironment in the oral cavity may compromise the body’s first line of defense essential for good oral health.