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Various Listerine products
Various Listerine products

Listerine is a brand name for antiseptic mouthwash, named after the English physician Joseph Lister (father of modern antiseptics) who had performed the first antiseptic surgery ever in 1865. Its medicinal taste is palliated slightly by a sweet flavor. Its slogan is "Kills germs that cause bad breath", though halitosis can return after use, even if nothing "extra" is placed in the mouth. This happens because saliva washes away the product, allowing the body's natural bacteria to repopulate the area.

Listerine is one of the most popular mouthwashes sold in the U.S. It is currently manufactured and distributed by Pfizer Inc, however, subject to regulatory approvals by the end of 2006, Johnson & Johnson will acquire the Listerine brand. Procter & Gamble's Scope is its main competitor.

The active ingredients are menthol, thymol, methyl salicylate, and eucalyptol, all of which are structural isomers. Ethanol or grain alcohol is present in concentrations between 21 and 26% w/v. At the concentrations in Listerine, ethanol per se does not have antimicrobial activity but rather serves to dissolve the active ingredients and to facilitate the penetration of the active ingredients into dental plaque.

Listerine has therapeutic uses that contribute to oral health when used regularly as an adjunct to mechanical oral hygiene procedures (toothbrushing and flossing). In clinical studies it has been shown that using Listerine regularly can reduce an additional 52% more plaque than merely brushing and flossing. Listerine was the first over-the-counter mouthwash to receive the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance for helping to control dental plaque and gingivitis. In addition, an FDA Advisory Panel has recommended that the active ingredients in Listerine be classified as Category I (safe and effective) for antiplaque and antigingivitis activity.

The Listerine brand name is also used on brands of toothpaste and on PocketPaks, a minty, dissolvable strip intended to instantly wash and refresh the mouth. In the late summer of 2005, Listerine began selling PocketMist, which is a breath-freshener in spray form.



First formulated by Dr Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert in 1879 as a surgical antiseptic, it was given to dentists for oral care in 1895 and became the first over-the-counter mouthwash sold in the United States in 1914.

According to Freakonomics (p. 91),

Listerine was invented in the 19th 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", the faux medical term that the Listerine advertising group created in 1921 to describe bad breath. By naming and thus creating a medical condition for which consumers now felt they needed a cure, Listerine created a market for their mouthwash. Until that time, bad breath was not conventionally considered a catastrophe, but Listerine's ad campaign changed that. As the advertising scholar James B. Twitchell writes, "Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis." 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. In just seven years, the company's revenues rose from $115,000 to more than $8 million.

From 1921 until the mid-1970s Listerine was also marketed as a preventive and remedy for colds and sore throats. In 1976, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that these claims were misleading, and that Listerine had "no efficacy" at either preventing or alleviating the symptoms of sore throats and colds. Warner-Lambert was ordered to stop making the claims, and to include in the next $10.2 million dollars' of Listerine ads a specific mention that "contrary to prior advertising, Listerine will not help prevent colds or sore throats or lessen their severity."

Listerine was packaged in a glass bottle inside a cardboard tube for nearly 80 years before the first revamps were made to the brand; in 1992, Cool Mint Listerine was introduced in addition to the regular Antiseptic formula, and in 1994, both brands were introduced in plastic bottles for the first time. In 2002, FreshBurst was added, then in 2003 Natural Citrus and in 2004, the ill-fated Cinnamon was released. In 2006 a new addition to the "less intense" variety, Vanilla Mint, was released. Currently, seven different kinds of Listerine are on the market in the U.S. and abroad: Original, Cool Mint, FreshBurst, Natural Citrus, Vanilla Mint, Advanced with Tartar Control, and Whitening. The most recent addition is the whitening formula.



There is no evidence that its properties as a solvent, mainly from the 26.9% (in regular Listerine) alcohol, cause an easier reception of carcinogens. In other words, repeated use of Listerine does not increase the risk 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):253261] and Mashburg et al. ["A Study of the relationship between mouthwash use and oral and pharyngeal cancer." JADA, 1985.] which summarize that alcohol-containing mouth rinses are not associated with oral cancer.


In the mid-1990s, Scope listed Rosie O'Donnell as the least-kissable celebrity in the U.S. She teamed up with Listerine to give money to charity every time she kissed someone on her talk show; this provided positive publicity for Listerine and harsh publicity for Scope, which O'Donnell disparaged on her show.

The song "Germfree Adolecents" by the 1970's punk rock group X-Ray Spex has a lyric that has often been misheard. Some will hear "Rinse your mouth with Listerine" when the lyric is actually "Rinse your mouth with glycerine".

External links

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