Modulation of nitrate-nitrite conversion in the oral cavity

Cancer Detect Prev. 1996;20(6):590-6.


The formation of nitrite from ingested nitrate can give rise to the induction of methemoglobinemia and endogenous nitrosation resulting in the formation of carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds. We investigated the possibility of modulation of the conversion of nitrate into nitrite in the oral cavity in order to seek ways of reducing the formation of the deleterious nitrite. We investigated the effectiveness of several mouthwash solutions with antibacterial constituents on the reduction of nitrate into nitrite in the oral cavity. In 15 studied subjects, the mean percentage of salivary nitrate reduced to nitrite after ingestion of 235 mg (3.8 mmol) nitrate was found to be 16.1 +/- 6.2%. The use of an antiseptic mouthwash with active antibacterial constituent chlorhexidine resulted in an almost complete decrease of the mean percentage of reduced nitrate, to 0.9 +/- 0.8%. Mouthwash solutions with antibacterial component triclosan or antimicrobial enzymes amyloglucosidase and glucose oxidase did not affect the reduction of nitrate into nitrite. A toothpaste with active components triclosan and zinc citrate with synergistic antiplaque activity was also without effect. Use of a pH-regulating chewing gum resulted in a rise in the pH in the oral cavity from 6.8 to 7.3. At 30 min after nitrate ingestion, this rise was accompanied by a significant increase in the salivary nitrite concentration, which might be explained by the pH being close to the optimal pH for nitrate reductase of 8. In conclusion, a limited number of possibilities of modulation of the conversion of nitrate into nitrite in the oral cavity are available.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chewing Gum
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mouth / metabolism*
  • Mouthwashes / pharmacology*
  • Nitrates / metabolism*
  • Nitrites / metabolism*
  • Oral Hygiene
  • Saliva / metabolism*
  • Toothpastes


  • Chewing Gum
  • Mouthwashes
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites
  • Toothpastes