Why Mouthwash Burns and How to Stop It

In 2018, the most popular mouthwash in the United States generated over $350 million in sales, with the top 10 products accumulating over $900 million. Mouthwash is an essential part of many daily dental hygiene rituals, but it’s one that’s often misunderstood and used incorrectly.

So, how is this oral hygiene essential supposed to be used, what are the active ingredients, and, to answer the question that countless users have, why does mouthwash burn?

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Why Does Mouthwash Burn?

There are a few ingredients that may be responsible for that burning sensation: 


Contrary to popular belief, alcohol isn’t the only reason that mouthwash burns, but it is a leading cause. The original Listerine formula contains 26.9% alcohol, while many other products contain around 20%. In terms of alcohol content, this means mouthwash is more akin to a strong cocktail or a rum and coke than a straight-up whiskey or vodka.  

Alcohol is an anti-bacterial agent and is very effective at killing the germs that cause plaque and bad breath. However, it also dries the mouth and reduces saliva production, which is the body’s natural defense against bacteria and acidity. So, while the alcohol in mouthwash can provide some temporary relief from bad breath and germs, it may make the problem worse once those effects fade away.

 Essential Oils

Essential oils are anti-bacterial powerhouses and are often added to soaps and mouthwashes for this very reason. Thyme oil, which is extracted from the culinary herb of the same name, is one of the most common and effective. It helps to kill bacteria and it can also leave a fresh taste in your mouth. 

However, these oils are also irritants. In their concentrated form, they are very dangerous and even when they have been diluted, they remain strong enough to create the burning sensation associated with mouthwash.

The oils of mints (peppermint, spearmint) and clove are also used and are two very common flavors.

Hydrogen Peroxide

 Although rare, some mouthwashes may contain low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, which can help with the whitening process and is also classed as a mild antiseptic. It’s debatable just how effective it could possibly be in such small concentrations, but it may help to reduce the levels of bacteria.

 It’s important to use hydrogen peroxide mouthwashes with great care. Despite their small concentrations of this caustic substance, these mouthwashes can cause harm when used to excess, especially if they’re used alongside other bleach-containing teeth whitening products.

One of the reasons we created SNOW Teeth Whitening was to provide users with a safe product that eliminated these risks and could be used alongside common mouthwashes and toothpaste, but the same can’t be said for other whitening products.

Damaged Tongue/Mouth

 If your tongue, gums, or mouth has been damaged by an abrasive substance, then the mouthwash will burn even more. This sensation can be caused by mouth ulcers and lacerations, which can be triggered by everything from cinnamon (a common irritant) to sweets (packed with sugar and citric acid) and acidic fruits.

It may help to rinse your mouth with water after eating these foods and prior to using mouthwash.

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Is Mouthwash Good for You?

If used carefully and as part of a proper dental hygiene routine, mouthwash is perfectly safe. However, there is no “one-size-fits-all”. If you have sensitive teeth and gums, you wouldn’t use a highly-abrasive whitening toothpaste, you’d used a high-fluoride toothpaste instead. It’s a similar story with mouthwash—use the one that suits your needs as opposed to the most popular or cheapest one in the store.

Mouthwash for Bad Breath

Alcohol mouthwash can make bad breath worse as it dries your mouth out. In fact, dry mouth is one of the leading causes of bad breath and using common alcohol mouthwashes will just exacerbate this problem. Stay hydrated, floss regularly, scrape your tongue, and use an alcohol-free mouthwash. 

Mouthwash for Sensitive Teeth

 Sensodyne mouthwash can help if you have sensitive teeth. It’s alcohol-free and contains a high concentration of fluoride, which can strengthen your teeth without drying out your mouth.

Mouthwash for General Needs

If you don’t have bad breath or other issues, there’s nothing wrong with using a little alcohol mouthwash every now and then. 

Mouthwash for Teeth Whitening

Mouthwash won’t whiten your teeth. It can reduce the bacteria in your mouth, and this may reduce yellowing, but it won’t scrub the plaque or tartar away and it won’t bleach the dentin underneath. 

If you want white teeth, try the Snow Teeth Whitening kit instead. It’s safe, easy to use, and delivers results after your first application. It can also be used as part of your normal oral hygiene routine.

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When Should you Use Mouthwash?

What do you do when you finish brushing your teeth? If you’re like the majority of Americans, you probably rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash. But while this can get the minty taste out of your mouth, it will also wash the fluoride away and prevent it from working its magic on your enamel.

Dentists recommend that you don’t rinse your mouth after brushing, especially if you have sensitive teeth. Instead, use it after eating or before brushing, washing those food particles away and preventing the build-up of bacteria that can cause plaque. If you’re not sure which mouthwash is best for you, consult your dentist.