This Is The Surprising Reason Why Your Mouth Burns When You Use Mouthwash

One dentist has warned against certain types of mouthwash.
IndiaPix/IndiaPicture via Getty Images

Ever find yourself wincing through the 30 seconds of mouthwash swilling after brushing your teeth because it’s stinging?

Until now, I perhaps shamefully thought that this stinging meant that the mouthwash was ‘working’ and was just something I had to deal with if I wanted fresh, healthy gums.

However, according to Dr Deepa Vakil, Lead Dentist and Clinical Director of Yor Dental, it doesn’t have to be this way and, actually, if your mouth is stinging or burning when you use mouthwash, it may be time to switch it for something a little less aggressive.

Vakil said: “Mouthwash can be detrimental to oral health for a few reasons. Some contain alcohol, which can dry out the mouth and reduce saliva production, leading to bad breath and a higher risk of cavities.”

She warned that harsh ingredients can irritate the gums which could potentially cause inflammation or even damage to the gums over time. Additonally mouthwash that kills all bacteria, including the good ones, can disrupt the natural balance of your oral microbiome, which is essential for keeping harmful bacteria in check.

Vakil said: “It’s best to choose a mouthwash without alcohol and with gentler ingredients to avoid these potential issues.”

Why mouthwash makes your mouth burn

Alcohol content

Vakil said: “Many mouthwashes contain alcohol, which can cause a burning sensation in the mouth. Alcohol is a common ingredient in mouthwash because it acts as an antiseptic, but it can irritate sensitive oral tissues, leading to a burning feeling.”

Antiseptic agents

The dentist advised that mouthwashes contain antiseptic agents like chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium chloride, or essential oils like eucalyptol and thymol. While these do kill bacteria, they can also cause irritation or inflammation in the mouth, resulting in a burning sensation.

Essential oils

Vakil said that while some mouthwashes have a nicer smell and flavour thanks to essential oils, these can be harsh on sensitive oral tissues which leads to burning.

When not to use mouthwash

Vakil said that, given these potential causes, she would advise against using mouthwash in specific scenarios:

  • Dry mouth (Xerostomia): Mouthwashes containing alcohol can exacerbate dry mouth, as alcohol has a drying effect. People with dry mouth may find these mouthwashes uncomfortable
  • Oral irritation: If you have cuts, sores, or other forms of irritation in the mouth, using alcohol-based mouthwash can be painful and worsen the irritation
  • Overuse: Frequent use of antiseptic mouthwashes can disrupt the natural balance of oral bacteria, potentially leading to other oral health issues like oral thrush or increased risk of cavities

Alternatives to mouthwash

If you have sensitive oral tissue or often find yourself with a burning or stinging mouth following using mouthwash, Vakil advises trying these:

  • Alcohol-free mouthwashes: These contain antibacterial agents without the alcohol, reducing the risk of irritation.
  • Natural or herbal mouthwashes: These use ingredients like tea tree oil, aloe vera, or xylitol, which are gentler on oral tissues.
  • Saline rinses: A simple mixture of salt and warm water can be an effective mouth rinse that is less likely to cause irritation.