Why Does Mouthwash Burn? And Should It?

By Dr. Ginger's Team / September 14, 2022

As Sophie lifted the capful of mouthwash carefully towards her lips, she hesitated for a moment and asked her mom in a whining tone—you know, the kind of tone that says she doesn’t want to be doing this—

“Why does mouthwash burn?”

In the higher-pitched voice that parents employ when they are asking their child to do something the child doesn’t want to do, her mom replied:

It’s only thirty seconds! I know it burns but that means it’s working. I’ll count with you as you go! One…Two…Three…”

A father and mother with small daughter washing indoors in bathroom in the evening or morning.

Many brands of mouthwash burn (or sting) the tongue and mouth, we know this, but WHY? Why does mouthwash burn?! And more importantly, does that mean it’s working?

In short: Mouthwash burns because of high alcohol content, menthol content, and/or essential oil content.

In short again: No, mouthwash doesn’t need to burn to clean your mouth!

We asked Dr. Ginger Price, DDS: Why does mouthwash burn?

It might be common knowledge that it’s the alcohol or menthol that causes a burning sensation in the mouth, but why does it burn and why do we find alcohol and menthol in mouthwash?

Dr. Ginger’s take:

“Menthol is for flavoring, it’s that ‘Wow!’ cooling-feeling and it adds to the consumers’ experience.

Alcohol is in mouthwash as an antiseptic; alcohol has been used as an antiseptic for decades…centuries even. It’s known to neutralize bacteria and it does so in the mouth, too.

It burns because ethanol in alcohol lowers the threshold for your VR1 receptors to experience heat. In fact, ethanol isn’t actually ‘hot’ or ‘spicy’ it just makes the ‘hot’ and ‘spicy’ [VR1] receptors sensitive to your internal body temperature. Which suddenly feels hot.

But what she said next is less than common knowledge:

You see all of these brands claiming to ‘destroy 99.9% of bacteria that causes gingivitis’—it’s the alcohol that is doing that. However, those taglines are somewhat irresponsible, I think.

Sure, you can clinically prove that your mouthwash destroys 99.9% of a certain bacteria, but what they don’t tell you is that it destroys far more than just the bacteria that causes gingivitis.

There are millions, billions, of bacterial cultures that live in your mouth that are actually good! They break down nutrients, sugars, and assist in keeping your oral cavity moist. Unfortunately, alcohol in mouthwash affects these bacteria, too.”

Dr. Ginger Price, DDS

(Just to show you that Dr. Ginger isn’t that 10th dentist in the “9 out of 10 Dentists recommend mouthwash…” – check out what other professional dentists have to say about ‘why mouthwash burns’ over at Healthline.)

Dr. Ginger’s smart solution to mouthwash woes.

When asked about developing her coconut oil mouthwash, she answered with this:

“First off, I didn’t want to alter the good bacteria in the mouth. That’s been my biggest qualm with mouthwash. I already knew coconut oil was beneficial to the good oral bacteria—coconut oil has been used for thousands of years for oral care, skin care, hair care, et cetera. But it was when I learned that xylitol isn’t digestible by the bacteria that causes gingivitis I knew I could help the oral care market.

After some experimenting I found that coconut oil and xylitol coat the teeth in a slippery way that doesn’t allow plaque to stick, while the bacteria that causes gingivitis cannot digest the xylitol coating your teeth! WIN WIN!

I figured out how to benefit the good stuff, and deny the bad stuff a place to live or food to eat. No more attacking your mouth, but rather improving the environment.

Secondly, most mouthwash brands don’t taste very good—not trying to knock them, but it’s true. Too much alcohol content, or menthol, and just ‘bleh’ flavoring, they are all very off-putting. So it was important to me to find the right mixture of organic coconut oil and xylitol. Xylitol, being a natural sweetener, tastes pleasant, while coconut oil tastes like…coconuts!”

When we found the right combination it was like a sweet little tropical vacation for your mouth. Without the sunburn.

Dr. Ginger Price, DDS

After switching to Dr. Ginger’s Coconut Oil Mouthwash, Sophie’s parents stopped using the 30 second countdown to help Sophie get through her mouthwash routine. They now use a 2 minute timer and have to remind her to spit it out. Talk about refreshing, eh?

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