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Listerine is a brand name for antiseptic mouthwash, named after Joseph Lister (father of modern antiseptics). Its medicinal taste is palliated slightly by a sweet flavor. Its slogan is, "Kills germs that cause bad breath", though there is no evidence to suggest it cures halitosis.

Currently manufactured and distributed by Pfizer Inc, Listerine is one of the most popular mouthwashes (Scope being its main competitor).

The active ingredients are menthol, thymol, methyl salicylate, and eucalyptol, all of which are structural isomers. While not listed as an active ingredient, ethanol or grain alcohol is present in concentrations between 21 and 26% w/v. This accounts for a large part of Listerine's antibiotic activity. Currently, other types of Listerine include Cool Mint, FreshBurst, Natural Citrus, Tartar Control, and Whitening.

The Listerine brand name is also used on brands of toothpaste, and PocketPaks, a minty, dissolvable strip intended to instantly wash and refresh the mouth.


Advertising too is a brilliant tool for creating conventional wisdom. Listerine, for instance, was invented in the nineteenth century as a powerful surgical antiseptic. It was later sold, in a distilled form, as 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 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.
(from Freakonomics, 91)

Cancer controversy

There is no evidence that its properties as a solvent, mainly because of the 26.9% (in regular Listerine) alcohol, causes an easier reception of carcinogens. In other words, repeated use of Listerine does not increase the chance of oral cancer. Both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the United States National Cancer Institute (NCI) agree that the alcohol contained in antiseptic mouthrinse is safe and not a factor in oral cancers. Specific study reviews and results can be found in clinical reports by J.G. Elmore and R. I. Horowitz [Oral cancer and mouthwash use: Evaluation of the epidemiologic evidence. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1995;1(113):253-261] and Mashburg et al. [A Study of the relationship between mouthwash use and oral and pharyngeal cancer. JADA. 1985.] which summarize that alcohol-containing mouthrinses are not associated with oral cancer.

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