Why you shouldn't use mouthwash

It's another "good" habit that's actually bad for you -- and millions of people do it two or three times a day or more.

It's a quick swish with some mouthwash. It's supposed to kill germs, freshen your breath and protect your teeth. That's what it says on the label anyway, and you certainly feel fresher and smell better after that rinse.

But new research confirms it's also doing something else: It could be causing oral cancer symptoms.

People who use mouthwash -- especially people who use it three times a day or more -- have a higher risk of oral cancers symptoms, new research confirms. So do people who don't take care of their mouths at all.

In other words, a mouthwash habit could be about as bad for you as poor dental hygiene, at least when it comes to your cancer risk.

While some people are surprised by the new study, I'm not. Alcohol is a known carcinogen, and when you let it circulate in the delicate tissues of the mouth several times a day, of course it's going to do some damage.

That's why heavy drinkers and alcoholics have a higher risk of oral cancers (among other problems).

Smoking can also boost the odds, and smokers who use mouthwash have the biggest oral cancer risk of all.

That's a pretty common combination, too, since many smokers are always using mouthwash.

They're trying to mask the nasty smell of nicotine breath. It doesn't really work -- you can still smell a smoker a mile away -- but it does do something else: alcohol and nicotine, when combined, form a highly cancerous compound called acetaldehyde.

It's so dangerous that a 2009 study found that smokers who use mouthwash have 9 times the cancer risk.

If you need to freshen up, use an all-natural alcohol-free rinse instead.

But if you're just looking to care for your mouth, you don't need any type of mouthwash or rinse at all. All you need is some floss and a quality all-natural (and fluoride-free) toothpaste.

Brush and floss after meals, and you'll have the cleanest mouth in town.