Why Does Mouthwash Burn?

erica medical reviewer
Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
Ellie Swain
Written by
Ellie Swain
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Evidence Based
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6 sources cited
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Summary 

  • It is common for mouthwash to burn your mouth. However, it is not a cause for concern
  • Ingredients like alcohol, chlorhexidine, and menthol are often found in mouthwash, which cause the burning sensation
  • There are plenty of alternative mouth rinses to use instead of formulas that burn
  • It is beneficial to use mouthwash in your daily routine

Should Mouthwash Burn?

Mouthwash is also known as oral rinse. 

A mouthwash or oral rinse is a liquid-based dental hygiene product that:

  • Cleans your mouth
  • Freshens breath
  • Eliminates bacteria on your tongue and between your teeth

Many mouthwashes advertise a tingling sensation as a sign that the product is working. 

However, for many people, using mouthwash does not feel refreshing. Instead, it may burn the mouth and feel painful.

It is possible to oral rinse products as directed and still experience a painful stinging or burning sensation. In most cases, this does not mean that you used the product wrong or you need to stop using it.

Not all mouthwashes cause burning. However, your level of sensitivity to certain ingredients may make it challenging to find a rinse that does not cause any burning.

Some mouthwashes are made without alcohol. Alcohol-free mouthwashes are typically more gentle on your tongue, mouth, and gums.

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Most of the leading mouth rinse brands produce alcohol-free formulas. 

If you switch to an alcohol-free mouthwash, but you still experience burning, you may be sensitive to one of the other active ingredients in the rinse. You may need to sample a few different formulas before you find a rinse that you like.

The different types of mouthwash include:

  • Containing alcohol
  • Alcohol-free
  • Fluoride
  • Cosmetic
  • Prescription

3 Reasons Why Your Mouthwash Burns

There are several reasons why your mouthwash may burn:

1. Alcohol

Alcohol contains antiseptic properties. It is a main ingredient in many mouthwash formulas. Alcohol kills bacteria and sanitizes your mouth.4

However, pure alcohol alone is not enough to kill bacteria, leading to bad breath and gingivitis. Alcohol is only one of the active ingredients in a mouth rinse.

Some oral rinses contain over 25% alcohol. When you use an oral rinse with alcohol, you may notice that the burning feeling centralizes on your tongue.

The taste buds on your tongue may be more sensitive to the taste and feel of alcohol than other areas in your mouth.

2. Chlorhexidine

Another common mouthwash ingredient is chlorhexidine. This ingredient may reduce plaque and help fight gingivitis.1  

Chlorhexidine may also result in a burning or tingling sensation.

The Food and Drug Administration has documented an uncommon but severe allergy that some people have to chlorhexidine.2  

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3. Menthol 

Some people are sensitive to menthol. This ingredient is derived from mint or peppermint. 

Many people experience severe burning instead of a pleasant tingling when they use menthol mouthwash.

There are other ingredients typically included in mouthwash that may cause a burning sensation. These include:

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Essential oils including peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and thyme oil

What to Do if a Mouthwash is Burning Your Mouth 

If the mouthwash you are using causes ongoing burning symptoms or discomfort, stop use. You can also dilute it with water to reduce any burning.

Using a mouthwash that you are sensitive to can lead to a breakdown in some of the tissue in your mouth. This may contribute to ulcers.

Best ‘Burn-Free’ Mouthwash Alternatives

There are many natural alternative types of mouthwash advertised as burn-free. Here are some of the top-rated options available on Amazon.

Listerine Naturals Healthier Gums Antiseptic Mouthwash

1. Listerine Naturals Antiseptic Mouthwash

Listerine is a popular mouthwash brand. This Naturals Antiseptic Mouthwash provides a natural way to reduce bad breath and remove plaque and bacteria. The formula is budget-friendly. 

The brand labels the mouthwash ‘99 percent natural.’ However, one con is that the mouthwash contains some alcohol. This may make the formula unsuitable for some people.

Contains the active ingredients:

  • ​Peppermint
  • Eucalyptus
  • Thyme 
hello Oral Care Naturally Healthy Antigingivitis

2. Hello Naturally Healthy Antigingivitis Mouthwash

This natural mouthwash is available on Amazon and at your local drugstore. It is both fluoride and alcohol-free. It also uses aloe vera, which may cut down on plaque and bacteria.

The mouthwash is available in three different flavors:

  • Mint 
  • Watermelon
  • Peppermint (menthol-based)
Toms of Maine Sea Salt Natural Alcohol Free Mouthwash

3. Tom’s of Maine Refreshing Mint Sea Salt Mouthwash

The Tom’s of Maine Refreshing Mint Sea Salt Mouthwash comes in a six-pack. This is ideal if you want to stock up on natural mouthwash.

The brand sells its alcohol-free mouthwash formulas in budget-friendly bulk packs. This provides you with enough mouthwash to last for three to four months.

The formula uses a combination of sea salt and aloe vera to clean your mouth and control plaque. It also contains mint to freshen breath.

This mouthwash contains the active ingredients:

  • Sea salt
  • Aloe vera

Is Mouthwash Actually Good For Your Teeth? 

Using mouthwash as part of your daily oral hygiene routine is essential. 

Different types of mouthwash deliver various benefits. This can be helpful if you are trying to address a particular oral hygiene issue.

The benefits of using mouthwash include:

  • Mouthwash can whiten your teeth. Rinses designed to whiten teeth often contain bleaching or whitening ingredients like hydrogen peroxide. Some mouthwashes contain other ingredients like coconut oil or activated charcoal.
  • Mouthwash can strengthen tooth enamel. Rinses designed to prevent cavities usually contain fluoride. 
  • Mouthwash can help prevent gum disease. Mouth rinses that fight bacteria contributing to plaque and gingivitis usually contain essential oils like menthol, thymol, or eucalyptol.
  • Mouthwash can reduce bacteria that cause bad breath. Formulas that target foul odor kill bacteria that cause halitosis. This form of oral rinse is usually alcohol-based.

There are also therapeutic mouthwashes available by prescription. Chlorhexidine mouthwash is sometimes prescribed to treat the symptoms of gingivitis. 

Different mouthwashes may be prescribed to:

  • Clean a dry socket following tooth extraction
  • Manage side effects of cancer treatments, including oral mucositis 
  • Encourage saliva production if you have dry mouth

Mouthwash should not be ingested in high amounts, especially by children. The American Dental Association does not recommend mouthwash for children under the age of 6.3

If you have any concerns about using a mouthwash formulation, be sure to speak with a doctor or dentist.

Resources

Richards, Derek. “Chlorhexidine mouthwash plaque levels and gingival health.” Evidence-based dentistry vol. 18,2 (2017): 37-38

FDA warns about rare but serious allergic reactions with the skin antiseptic chlorhexidine gluconate, United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), February 2017

Mouthwash, Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association (ADA)

Marchetti, Enrico et al. “Efficacy of essential oil mouthwash with and without alcohol: a 3-day plaque accumulation model.” Trials vol. 12 262. 15 Dec. 2011

Haghgoo, Roza, and Farid Abbasi. “Evaluation of the use of a peppermint mouth rinse for halitosis by girls studying in Tehran high schools.” Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry vol. 3,1 (2013): 29-31

Ciancio, Sebastian G. “Mouthwashes: Rationale for use.” American journal of dentistry vol. 28 Spec No A (2015): 4A-8A.

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