The Impact of Mouthwash on the Oropharyngeal Microbiota of Men Who Have Sex with Men: a Substudy of the OMEGA Trial

Erica L. Plummer, Kate Maddaford, Gerald L. Murray, Christopher K. Fairley, Shivani Pasricha, Andre Mu, Catriona S. Bradshaw, Deborah A. Williamson, Eric P.F. Chow

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Mouthwash is a commonly used product and has been proposed as an alternative intervention to prevent gonorrhea transmission. However, the long-term effects of mouthwash on the oral microbiota are largely unknown. We investigated the impact of 12 weeks of daily mouthwash use on the oropharyngeal microbiota in a subset of men who have sex with men who participated in a randomized trial comparing the efficacy of two alcohol-free mouthwashes for the prevention of gonorrhea. We characterized the oropharyngeal microbiota using 16S rRNA gene sequencing of tonsillar fossae samples collected before and after 12 weeks of daily use of Listerine mouthwash or Biotène dry mouth oral rinse. Permutational multivariate analysis of variance (PERMANOVA) was used to assess differences in oropharyngeal microbiota composition following mouthwash use. Differential abundance testing was performed using ALDEx2, with false-discovery rate correction. A total of 306 samples from 153 men were analyzed (Listerine, n = 78 and Biotène, n = 75). There was no difference in the overall structure of the oropharyngeal microbiota following Listerine or Biotène use (PERMANOVA P = 0.413 and P = 0.331, respectively). Although no bacterial taxa were significantly differentially abundant following Listerine use, we observed a small but significant decrease in the abundance of both Streptococcus and Leptotrichia following Biotène use. Overall, our findings suggest that daily use of antiseptic mouthwash has minimal long-term effects on the composition of the oropharyngeal microbiota. IMPORTANCE Given the role of the oral microbiota in human health, it is important to understand if and how external factors influence its composition. Mouthwash use is common in some populations, and the use of antiseptic mouthwash has been proposed as an alternative intervention to prevent gonorrhea transmission. However, the long-term effect of mouthwash use on the oral microbiota composition is largely unknown. We found that daily use of two different commercially available mouthwashes had limited long-term effects on the composition of the oropharyngeal microbiota over a 12-week period. The results from our study and prior studies highlight that different mouthwashes may differentially affect the oral microbiome composition and that further studies are needed to determine if mouthwash use induces short-term changes to the oral microbiota that may have detrimental effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01757-21
Number of pages13
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Men who have sex with men
  • Mouthwash
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • Oral microbiome
  • Oropharyngeal gonorrhea

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