We love the squeaky-clean feeling we get after swishing with a minty mouthwash. Mouthwashes and rinses can freshen breath and promote good oral health. But when they start to burn, it can be a cause for concern.
There are two types of mouthwashes:
- Cosmetic mouthwashes and rinses can control bad breath and leave behind a nice taste, but they have no chemical or biological function beyond their temporary benefit. They do help to dislodge food stuck in the teeth, which helps reduce the risk of tooth decay. If a product doesn’t kill bacteria associated with bad breath, then its benefit is considered to be solely cosmetic.
- Therapeutic mouthwashes and rinses are available over the counter and by prescription. These help reduce or control plaque, gingivitis, bad breath, and prevent tooth decay. They may be called antiseptic, anti-plaque, anti-gingivitis, or anti-cavity, depending on their focus. Most anti-plaque and anti-cavity mouth rinses can usually be purchased over the counter but some prescription strength fluoride, anti-cavity rinses or anti-bacterial products like chlorhexidine, require a prescription.
Now that you understand the basics of mouthwash, let’s dive deeper into what can cause them to burn:
- Menthol is in toothpaste, gum—and of course—mouthwash. It is sourced as an oil primarily from peppermint. This gives it a strong, minty flavor and makes your mouth tingly and cold. Rinses with high levels of menthol are likely to sting the most. Menthol is used in dental products because it is antimicrobial, meaning it kills bacteria and stops their growth.
- Alcohol is a common component in commercial rinses. Alcohol has the ability to kill germs, but mouthwash doesn’t contain enough alcohol for that to happen. Instead, it’s there to act as a vehicle for other ingredients. It can also dry out your mouth. Some mouth rinses contain high levels of alcohol—ranging from 18 to 26%. This may cause a burning sensation in the cheeks, teeth, and gums.
Burning can also come from overuse of mouthwash, which creates irritated mouth tissue and can lead to mouth sores.
Dental Issues and Mouthwash
The mouthwash ingredients mentioned above can cause added pain for those with mouth ulcers, gingivitis, or bad breath. For example:
- Mouth ulcers will become worse with alcohol-based rinses. The menthol irritates the wounds and alcohol’s drying properties delay the healing process.
- Gingivitis and plaque can be reduced by using mouthwash when combined with daily brushing and flossing. Mouthwash does a great job removing plaque, but with gingivitis, the alcohol can cause added pain in your mouth.
If you experience a bad reaction to a mouth rinse, stop using it and talk to your dentist right away. You may need to switch to a non-alcohol mouthwash.
So, how can you solve the mouthwash burn? Get back to basics—creating a consistent brushing and flossing routine can work wonders for your oral health. But if you prefer the whole suite of smile tools, look for a therapeutic, alcohol-free mouthwash with low amounts of menthol. Ask your dentist for a recommendation!