Listerine: the not-so-new snakeweed oil…

In an attempt to try to prevent me from being sued or at the least receive a nasty cease and desist letter I’ll start off with saying this is supposition; I’m simply going to summarize and link to you information and let you decide if you want to purchase Listerine or any other mouth wash that claims to solve problems that it really cannot.

A few weeks back I posted the article 6 Companies That Rigged the Game (and Changed the World) to my Facebook wall.  It was a good read and I was surprised by some of the entries and not by others.

#4 on the list regarded Listerine and I was rather amazed to see what Listerine had done in the past to garner higher sales.  The author appears to have relied heavily on Wikipedia for the basis so I’ll just directly quote their quote…

From Wiki, from Freakonomics,

Listerine, for instance, was invented in the nineteenth century as powerful surgical antiseptic. It was later sold, in distilled form, as both a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea. But it wasn’t a runaway success until the 1920s, when it was pitched as a solution for “chronic halitosis”— a then obscure medical term for bad breath. 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. Until that time, bad breath was not conventionally considered such a catastrophe. But Listerine changed that. As the advertising scholar James B. Twitchell writes, “Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis.” In just seven years, the company’s revenues rose from $115,000 to more than $8 million.

After reading the above article I set it aside in my mind, while I have used mouth wash in the past I don’t run right out and buy more when the bottle is empty. Who was I to judge their marketing platform, Lysol disinfectant used to advertise how to use their product as a douche for feminine odor. Listerine was simply making a bigger-deal out of a stinky mouth instead of a stinky va-jay-jay.

Then last week I saw the latest advertisement from Listerine claiming that it can cure the evil ‘biofilms’ that are growing on your gums/teeth made up of germs that are “strong enough to survive daily brushing,” and Listerine can “penetrate biofilms, kill germs, and protect your mouth for up to 12 hours.”


Or… maybe not so much (click above to watch at As soon as I saw that commercial I instantly remembered the article from only a few weeks previously (which was published prior to the biofilm campaign to the best of my knowledge), and I’m calling BS on Listerine and any other mouth wash that tries to ride their coat-tails.

From another website I found some more interesting information of the legal variety. According to NewsInferno, Listerine (owned by Johnson & Johnson) has a habit of twisting their products reputed capabilities if not the actual seriousness of the condition they say their product can cure and this anti-biofilm statement is just the latest.

The Listerine TV spot could lead one to believe that biofilms are some new type of scientific discovery. But in fact, when it comes to the type of biofilm that forms on teeth, something much more mundane is involved – good old-fashioned plaque. Plaque is actually a type of biofilm. But you’d never know that from watching the Listerine Antiseptic commercial, which never mentions plaque.

Earlier this year, an article posted on the Healthy Living Blog asserted that Johnson & Johnson had begun using the term “biofilm” in place of “plaque” in order to boost Listerine sales without having to reformulate their product or change its packaging.

Doing a quickie GOOGLE search bounced me out to Montana State who apparently have received themselves a pretty penny from the National Science Institute to study the grandiose designs of  biofilms in microbiology.

Montana State goes on to advise that there are good and bad biofilms; basically bacteria can use their powers for good or evil depending on the friends the bacteria colony keep. I’m dumbing it down here to make it funny, if you want all the deep intricate stuff click the link there and knock yourself out. Click here to see their slide show, helps you visualize what grows on your kitchen sponge, tooth-brush, shower curtain, and worst of all — baby pacifier.

I left after reading what appeared to suggest that the bacteria colony are kind of sentient, ’cause that’s just creepy.

That one on the left is looking at me funny.

Back to our friends at NewsInferno, they finished off their article (in case you didn’t go read it) by advising:

In fact, in September 2010, the FDA demanded that Johnson & Johnson quit making the same claims disputed by the Listerine Total Care Anticavity Mouthwash lawsuit. According to a warning letter issued by the agency, sodium fluoride, the sole active ingredient in this Listerine product, does not mitigate, prevent, or remove plaque.

The Wiki Listerine article mentioned something else about the possibility that alcohol-containing mouth rinses may cause oral cancer. Does Johnson & Johnson know they have all this posted on a site that most people think is ‘true’?

There has been concern that the use of alcohol-containing mouthwash such as Listerine may increase the risk of developing oral cancer. Studies conducted in 1985, 1995, and 2003 summarize that alcohol-containing mouth rinses are not associated with oral cancer. However, a review of a study carried out in Cuba, Argentina, and Brazil 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…

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.

Don’t worry, I went off to the link to read more from the Australian Dental Journal. They did in vitro studies (yes, I had to look that up too, means they watched the tissue in a petri dish or test tube instead of live animals) on animal tissues to find that alcohol allowed for greater penetration by tobacco products.  I would say in my own words that it is correlative that alcohol consumption or heavy use of alcohol-based mouth rinses could allow someone to become more prone to oral cancers because their skin is absorbing the carcinogens from the tobacco products easier.

It is interesting that they list off a series of product and their Ethanol concentration, Listerine tops the list, and also mentions that, “studies have shown that high concentrations of alcohol in mouth rinses may have detrimental oral effects such as epithelial detachment, keratosis, mucosal ulceration, gingivitis, petechiae and oral pain.”

Huh, isn’t that gingivitis thing what most mouth washes CLAIM to fight?

Oh, yeah.

Consider yourself a more informed consumer; do you really need to spend $6.94 on a bottle of Listerine?  That’s like two lattes at your local coffee shop where you can consume caffeine and sugar which leads to a whole host of other problems…

but that’s a different story for a different day.


3 responses to “Listerine: the not-so-new snakeweed oil…

  1. Oh, Lordy, who knew mouth wash was so silly? I’ve occasionally used them but mostly the fluoride kind so that I can have strong teeth. I generally look to see if they have an alcohol content because I don’t feel gargling with alcohol could be that good for one. Seems to me like I might as well gargle with my favorite beer which would be tastier, can be swallowed and oft times leads to amusement. 🙂

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