Worldwide, oral cancer represents approximately 5 per cent of all malignant lesions, with over 800 new intra-oral squamous cell carcinomas registered in Australia each year. Despite recent advances in therapy, the five-year survival rate remains around 50 per cent and the sequelae of treatment can be seriously debilitating. It has been long established that smoking and alcohol consumption are risk factors linked to the development of oral cancer. This review assesses the epidemiological evidence, supportive in vitro studies and mechanism by which alcohol is involved in the development of oral cancer. Further, we review the literature that associates alcohol-containing mouthwashes and oral cancer. On the basis of this review, we believe that there is now sufficient evidence to accept the proposition that alcohol-containing mouthwashes contribute to the increased risk of development of oral cancer and further feel that it is inadvisable for oral healthcare professionals to recommend the long-term use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes.