Certain mouthwashes may spell disaster for overall health, according to a recent study. The research, published in Free Radical Biology & Medicine shows that daily use of rinses containing .2% by volume of the antiseptic chlorhexidine may contribute to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes by affecting the body’s natural regulation of blood pressure.
The oral microbiome is a complex array of bacteria, some of which are symbiotic with the human body and others that are pathogenic. The industry standard for bleeding gums has been to use chlorhexidine rinses to reduce bleeding gums and the associated oral pathogens. This study shows us that chlorhexidine mouthwashes offer a “scorched earth” solution for oral health—often disrupting the good bacteria as well as the bad.
Most importantly, it shows that the good oral bacteria are essential in the nitrate-nitrite conversion that plays a key role in the physiological control of blood pressure. Regular use of an antiseptic mouthwash containing chlorhexidine alters the good oral bacteria, leading to increased blood pressure in as little as one day of use.
“Systolic and diastolic blood pressure increased by 2–3 .5 mm Hg, increases correlated to a decrease in circulating nitrite concentrations….These results suggest that the recycling of endogenous nitrate by oral bacteria plays an important role in determination of plasma nitrite levels and thereby in the physiological control of blood pressure.”
At first glance, the changes in blood pressure may appear to be minimal, but, as a report on the study in Medical Daily stated, “A two point raise in blood pressure can enhance the risk of dying from a stroke by 10 percent, and heart disease by seven percent.”
While chlorhexidine mouthwashes are intended as a short-term solution to reduce oral biofilm and the associated pathogenic bacteria, this study demonstrates the mounting concern for the impact on overall health from regular use.
Chlorhexidine still appears to be a good short-term solution to improve oral health, although long-term solutions should include regimens that reduce gram-negative anaerobic oral pathogens without simultaneously eliminating good oral bacteria. It appears for long term use, natural alternatives are ideal.