The negative side effects of alternative antiseptics

Alcohol. Bleach. Learn them, live them, love them. Those are the two most effective antiseptics that work in pretty much every situation. When I was working in a biological research laboratory at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, our procedures for cleaning the equipment involved alcohol, bleach, and wipes. Antimicrobials were completely banned; you wouldn’t want the little beasties evolving resistance, of couse. This is why I find it so absurd that companies routinely put low doses of antimicrobials in everyday household soap, because all it’s doing is breeding resistance. If the beasties absolutely positively must die, there’s no better way than alcohol and/or bleach (and high heat, but that’s a topic for another blog post); it’s much harder to evolve resistance to substances that do their killing on the chemical level rather than the biological level.

Thankfully, mouthwash companies seem to have figured this out, and their products have always been effective because of the high alcohol content in them (understandably, you don’t use bleach in situations that puts it in contact with skin). The color is just for looks, and the minty flavor is just for taste, but it’s the trusty alcohol that steals the show. Sure, it may sting a little bit, but if you’re not a total wuss, you can put up with the alcohol for a cleansing that bacteria won’t become resistant to. If you’re not a total wuss. Well, now Crest is marketing a mouthwash aimed specifically at the total wuss segment of the market. It’s called Crest Pro Health. Instead of using alcohol, it uses the antiseptic Cetylpyridinium chloride. At least it’s not an antimicrobial, so it won’t evolve resistance, but it has another problem: it turns your teeth brown and paralyzes your taste buds.

Is this really a good trade-off for the customer? Escape the temporary burn of the alcohol while the mouthwash is in your mouth, but pay for it with brown teeth and taste buds that are paralyzed for hours afterwards? How in the hell did this product ever make it to market? It almost seems like a lawsuit risk. Yet it’s not even the worst possible mouthwash imaginable. I fear for the day when another mouthwash is released that is targeted at the total wusses who don’t want their teeth stained brown market; it will contain full-on antimicrobials, which will be effective for all of a week before the bacteria in their mouth evolve resistance. And that’s the last thing we need: a bunch of frothing idiots running around spreading resistant bacteria from their frothing mouths.

7 Responses to “The negative side effects of alternative antiseptics”

  1. Kelly Martin Says:

    The only value I can see to something like this is that it gives a mouthwash option to people who cannot, or will not, use alcohol. But how necessary is that, really?

  2. drinian Says:

    Yeah, you can’t get drunk on cetylpyridinium chloride, so I guess Crest is aiming at the large and lucrative homeless and AlAnon markets. Or maybe they’re just hoping to sell more teeth-whitening toothpaste after your teeth turn brown. It seems like it’s getting harder to find Crest toothpaste without bleaching or whitening ingredients as it is.

    I agree on the whole “antibacterial” business; my parents have consciously eschewed soaps that contain triclosan for years now. Unfortunately, I don’t think most of the market is terribly well-informed. I honestly wish that these companies would stop letting their marketing departments create solutions in search of problems like these products.

  3. Cyde Weys Says:

    I very nearly decided to write a blog post on the topic of buying soap recently, but decided against it because it was too boring. So here’s the story in a nutshell.

    A few weeks ago I ran out of shower soap and had to buy more. I had to spend a couple minutes scanning the soaps on display in the grocery store before I even found a soap I was sure didn’t have antibacterials in it! The soaps marketed as antibacterials obviously had them; the soaps being marketed for other purposes (like “smoother skin”) had antibacterials as well; even soaps that didn’t even mention it anywhere on the front of the package had it listed in the ingredient list.

    What the hell is up with that?! I eventually found a soap by the name of “Dial for Men” that didn’t have antibacterials in it. I guess they think only real men are strong enough not to need them? That was the only soap in the entire Dial line they carried without antibacterials in them.

    It’s getting to the point where I think we may need to pass a law to ban the use of antibacterials in obviously inappropriate settings, because that’s only reducing the efficacy of them in the places where they are actually needed, like hospitals. Obviously consumers are proving too stupid to not buy them.

  4. William (green) Says:

    I’m pretty late coming into this, but it was on the Random Posts. Bizarrely enough, that’s the same soap I use and have used for about a year now. I got a big pack in the States and brought it with me stuff it random corners of my bags.

  5. paolo Says:

    It has caused me hearing loss after using it for a year. By process of elimination, I stopped it and I gradually gained my hearing back.
    I causes toxicity to the 8th cranial nerve.

  6. Tom Tamsen Says:

    I have been permanently damaged by the use of Crest Pro Health. My taste buds on the front of my tongue are constantly burning. Like drinking a liquid that is too hot.
    Recommend a good lawyer for class action law suit !!!

  7. Rick Says:

    Thanks for the info on the side effects. I did notice additonal sources on the brown stains (apparently it’s removable with standard cleaning from a dentist), but did not know abut the taste buds.

    The negative effects of alcohol mouthwashes go far beyond the alcohol burn. The effects I am quoting apply to drinking alcohol as well as alcohol mouthwashes.

    Alcohol dissolves fats in the mucous membrane of the mouth making it slightly porous. I’ve personally done research and there are hundreds of studies in this field, that show alcohol makes harmful chemicals penetrate cells more easily. If you are a smoker, it’s not wise to use alcohol mouthwashes or drink alcohol excessively, even though smoking and drinking often goes together. If the relative risk of getting mouth or throat cancer is 1 in the general population, it is 1.3 in the person who drinks or uses alcohol mouthwash. It is 5 for smokers. But it is 500 for the smoker who either drinks or uses alcohol mouthwash.