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Why Does Mouthwash Burn? What You Need to Know

Table of Contents

What is Mouthwash?

Mouthwash is more than just a breath freshener; it’s a crucial component in the battle for comprehensive oral health. Designed to complement brushing and flossing, mouthwash reaches into every nook and cranny of your mouth, targeting areas that are often missed by traditional cleaning methods.


Key Mouthwash Ingredients and How they Contribute to the Burning Sensation

While mouthwash is a staple in oral hygiene routines, the burning sensation it sometimes causes can be off-putting. Let’s explore how specific ingredients contribute to this common experience:

  1. Alcohol (Ethanol): Alcohol is known for its antiseptic properties, effectively killing bacteria and germs in the mouth. However, it’s also a drying agent, which can strip away the mouth’s natural protective barriers, leading to the familiar burning sensation. For individuals with sensitive oral tissues or minor cuts in the mouth, alcohol can exacerbate the feeling of discomfort.

  2. Chlorhexidine: While chlorhexidine is effective in reducing plaque and treating gingivitis, it can cause a burning or tingling sensation, especially with prolonged use. This is due to its strong antibacterial properties, which, while beneficial for oral health, can irritate sensitive mouth tissues.

  3. Essential Oils (Eucalyptus, Menthol, Thymol): These natural ingredients, known for their refreshing flavors and antibacterial action, can also contribute to the burning sensation. Menthol, in particular, provides a cooling effect that, paradoxically, can feel like burning to some people, especially if they have sensitive gums or oral mucosa.

  4. Cetylpyridinium Chloride: This compound is effective in reducing bad breath and plaque but can cause a burning feeling due to its chemical nature. Like other antiseptics, it can irritate sensitive areas in the mouth, leading to discomfort during and after rinsing.

  5. Hydrogen Peroxide: Used in whitening mouthwashes, hydrogen peroxide can cause a mild burning or tingling sensation. This is because it releases oxygen bubbles as it reacts with the surfaces of the teeth and gums, which can irritate sensitive oral tissues.

The burning sensation associated with mouthwash largely depends on the individual’s sensitivity, the condition of their oral health, and the specific formulation of the mouthwash. For those who find the sensation unbearable, there are alternatives available, such as alcohol-free mouthwashes or those formulated for sensitive mouths, which can provide the benefits of mouthwash without the discomfort. Understanding the ingredients and how they affect your mouth can help you choose the right product for a more comfortable oral hygiene routine.

Why Is Alcohol Used in Mouthwash?

Alcohol is a key component in many mouthwashes due to its effective antiseptic qualities. It’s particularly valued for its ability to kill bacteria and other pathogens in the mouth, reducing the risk of plaque buildup, gum disease, and bad breath. This makes alcohol an essential ingredient for maintaining oral health and ensuring a clean, fresh mouth.

The reason alcohol is so widely used in mouthwash formulations is its efficiency in breaking down bacterial cell walls, leading to the destruction of harmful oral bacteria. This process helps in preventing the development of dental conditions that can lead to more serious health issues if left untreated.

Moreover, alcohol serves as an excellent solvent in mouthwash, allowing other beneficial ingredients to dissolve more effectively. This enhances the overall efficacy of the mouthwash, ensuring that active ingredients are evenly distributed and can reach all areas of the mouth. Despite its burning sensation for some users, the inclusion of alcohol in mouthwash is primarily for its unmatched ability to promote a cleaner, healthier oral environment.

What’s the Correlation Between Alcohol Content and the Intensity of the Burning Sensation?

The burning sensation many people experience when using mouthwash is directly linked to the alcohol content within the product. Essentially, the higher the concentration of alcohol, the more intense the burning feeling tends to be. This is because alcohol can strip away the mouth’s protective mucous layer, exposing sensitive tissues to the harsh effects of the mouthwash’s components.

Alcohol acts as a drying agent on the oral tissues, which can exacerbate the sensation of burning, especially in individuals with sensitive mouths or pre-existing oral conditions. When the protective barrier of saliva is reduced, the mouth becomes more susceptible to irritation, leading to that uncomfortable burning feeling during and after rinsing.

Some people might feel a strong burning sensation with mouthwashes containing lower alcohol percentages, while others may tolerate higher concentrations with minimal discomfort. This variability underscores the importance of selecting a mouthwash that aligns with your personal comfort level and oral health needs.

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What are the Benefits of Menthol and Chlorhexidine in Oral Care?

Menthol in Oral Care:

Menthol, derived from mint oils, is a popular ingredient in oral care products for several reasons:

  1. Freshens Breath: Menthol is well-known for its cooling and refreshing properties, which help combat bad breath effectively, leaving the mouth feeling clean and fresh.
  2. Antibacterial Effects: It helps reduce harmful bacteria in the mouth, contributing to a healthier oral environment and reducing the risk of gum disease.
  3. Soothing Sensation: Menthol provides a cooling effect that can help soothe irritated gums, offering relief from discomfort associated with dental issues like gingivitis.


Chlorhexidine in Oral Care:

Chlorhexidine is considered one of the most effective antiseptic agents in oral care:

  1. Fights Plaque: It is extremely effective at fighting plaque, reducing bacterial growth, and preventing the formation of new plaque and tartar on the teeth.
  2. Treats Gingivitis: Chlorhexidine is used to treat and prevent gingivitis (gum inflammation), reducing swelling, redness, and bleeding in the gums.
  3. Healing Properties: It promotes healing in the mouth after dental procedures and helps treat periodontal diseases by reducing bacteria levels.

Both menthol and chlorhexidine play significant roles in maintaining oral health. Menthol enhances the sensory experience of oral care products, making them more pleasant to use, while chlorhexidine offers strong antibacterial and plaque-fighting properties. Together, they contribute to a comprehensive oral hygiene routine, helping to keep the mouth clean, fresh, and healthy.

2 Common Questions About Why Does Mouthwash Burn

Is It Normal for Mouthwash to Burn?

Yes, it is normal for some people to experience a burning sensation when using mouthwash, especially those containing high levels of alcohol or certain essential oils. This sensation can vary from mild to intense and is typically due to the reaction of the mouthwash’s active ingredients with the sensitive tissues in your mouth. While a slight tingling or cooling sensation is common due to ingredients like menthol, a strong burning feeling may indicate sensitivity to specific components or an underlying oral condition.

Can Mouthwash Burn Your Gums or Tongue?

Mouthwash can indeed cause a burning sensation on the gums or tongue for some individuals. This is often related to the presence of alcohol, which can dry out and irritate sensitive oral tissues. Additionally, other ingredients like chlorhexidine, essential oils, and certain acids can also contribute to discomfort. If your gums or tongue feel irritated or burned after using mouthwash, consider switching to an alcohol-free variant or consult with a dental professional to find a suitable alternative.

Understanding your reaction to these ingredients can help you choose a more comfortable mouthwash option. If you experience persistent discomfort, consider consulting with a dental professional to identify a mouthwash that aligns with your oral health needs and sensitivities.

How to Select a Mouthwash Based on Ingredients and Personal Sensitivity?

Selecting the right mouthwash requires understanding your oral health needs and any sensitivities you might have. Here’s a guide to help you make an informed choice:

Identify Your Oral Health Goals:

  • For Fresh Breath: Look for mouthwashes with ingredients like menthol, eucalyptus, or other essential oils that help freshen your breath.
  • For Plaque and Gingivitis: Choose a mouthwash containing antiseptic agents like chlorhexidine or cetylpyridinium chloride, which are effective against bacteria.
  • For Dry Mouth: Opt for alcohol-free formulas, as alcohol can exacerbate dryness.
  • For Sensitive Teeth: Seek out mouthwashes with fluoride or those labeled for sensitive teeth, which can help strengthen enamel and reduce sensitivity.


Consider Personal Sensitivities:

  • If you have a history of allergic reactions or sensitivities to specific ingredients, read labels carefully. Ingredients like saccharin, dyes, or certain flavorings can cause reactions in some people.
  • Conduct a patch test if you’re trying a new mouthwash: Rinse with a small amount and wait to see if there’s any adverse reaction before continuing regular use.


Consult with a Dental Professional:

  • Discuss your oral health concerns and sensitivities with your dentist. They can recommend a mouthwash that suits your specific needs, especially if you have conditions like gum disease, cavities, or sensitive teeth.

By considering these factors, you can select a mouthwash that not only meets your oral health needs but also ensures a comfortable and pleasant experience without unnecessary irritation.

10 Signs That Indicate Your Mouthwash Might Be Causing Harm

  1. Increased Sensitivity or Pain: If you notice a sudden increase in tooth or gum sensitivity after starting a new mouthwash, especially to hot, cold, or sweet stimuli, it could be a sign that the product is too harsh for your oral environment.
  2. Persistent Oral Irritation: Any mouthwash that leaves your gums, tongue, or inner cheeks feeling irritated, inflamed, or sore for an extended period is a red flag. Healthy oral care products should not cause prolonged discomfort.
  3. Gum Bleeding: While some mouthwashes can cause a mild tingling sensation, they should not induce bleeding. If you experience gum bleeding that is not related to brushing or flossing technique, your mouthwash could be the culprit.
  4. Dry Mouth: Alcohol-based mouthwashes can lead to dry mouth, which, if persistent, can increase the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. If your mouth feels consistently dry after using mouthwash, consider switching to an alcohol-free variant.
  5. Changes in Taste: A lasting alteration in taste or a persistent unpleasant aftertaste following mouthwash use can indicate that it’s not suitable for you. This could also affect your appetite or enjoyment of food.
  6. Discoloration of Teeth or Fillings: Some mouthwashes contain ingredients that can stain teeth or dental restorations over time. If you notice any unusual changes in tooth color or the appearance of your fillings, it might be time to reassess your mouthwash.
  7. Mouth Ulcers or Sores: If you develop mouth ulcers, sores, or white patches that do not heal, your mouthwash could be too abrasive or contain an allergen causing a reaction.
  8. Worsening Breath Issues: Mouthwash is often used to combat bad breath, but if you find that your breath issues worsen or persist despite regular use, the product may not be addressing the underlying cause of your halitosis.
  9. Allergic Reactions: Signs of an allergic reaction can include itching, swelling, or rashes around the mouth area. If you suspect your mouthwash is causing an allergic response, discontinue use immediately and consult a dentist.
  10. Exacerbation of Pre-existing Conditions: If you have pre-existing oral health conditions, such as sensitive teeth, dry mouth, or canker sores, and notice a worsening of these conditions after using a new mouthwash, it could be aggravating your symptoms.


If you experience any of these signs, it’s crucial to stop using the mouthwash and consult with a dentist. They can help identify the cause of the problem, recommend a more suitable oral care product, and ensure that your oral health remains on track.


Choosing the right mouthwash is more than just picking a flavor or following a brand; it’s about understanding your oral health needs and how different ingredients interact with your mouth. While mouthwash can be a fantastic tool for enhancing oral hygiene, it’s crucial to use a product that complements your dental health without causing harm.

If you’ve experienced any adverse effects from your current mouthwash, it might be time to reassess its suitability for your oral care routine. Remember, the goal is to support your oral health, not compromise it. Paying attention to how your body reacts to a mouthwash is key to maintaining a healthy, balanced oral environment.

Ready for a Change? Thomas Dentistry is Here to Help

If you’re unsure about your current mouthwash or if you’ve encountered any of the signs mentioned above, we’re here to assist. Our team can provide personalized recommendations to ensure your mouthwash supports, not hinders, your oral health.

Don’t let mouthwash discomfort go unchecked. Schedule an appointment with us today, and let’s find the perfect balance for your oral care routine. 

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