3 Reasons Your Mouthwash Burns

We love mouthwashes and rinses that freshen the breath and help maintain good oral health. But when they start to burn, it can be a cause for concern.

There are two types of mouthwashes:

Cosmetic mouth rinses or mouthwashes may control bad breath and leave behind a pleasant taste, but they have no chemical or biological function beyond their temporary benefit. They do help to dislodge food debris stuck in the teeth, which can help reduce the risk of tooth decay. If a product doesn’t kill bacteria associated with bad breath though, then its benefit is considered to be solely cosmetic.

Therapeutic mouthwashes or rinses are available over the counter and by prescription and depend on the formulation. These can help reduce or control plaque, gingivitis, bad breath, and can help prevent tooth decay. They may be called antiseptic, anti-plaque, anti-gingivitis, or anti-cavity depending on their focus. Most anti-plaque and anti-cavity mouth rinses can usually be purchased over the counter but some prescription strength fluoride, anti-cavity rinse,s or anti-bacterial products like chlorhexidine, require a prescription.

Now that you understand the basics of mouthwash, we can diver deeper into what can cause them to burn.

Blame one or more of these culprits:


Menthol is in toothpaste, gum — and of course — mouthwash, and it is sourced as an oil primarily from peppermint. This gives it a strong, minty flavor and makes your mouth tingly and cold. Rinses with high levels of menthol are likely to sting the most. Menthol is used in dental products because it is an antimicrobial, meaning it kills bacteria and stops their growth.


Alcohol is a common component in commercial rinses. Alcohol does have the ability to kill germs, but mouthwash doesn’t contain enough alcohol for that to happen. Instead, it’s there to act as a vehicle for other ingredients. It can also serve to dry out the mouth. The actual burning sensation doesn’t come from the alcohol itself. Some mouth rinses contain high levels of alcohol — ranging from 18 to 26 percent. This may produce a burning sensation in the cheeks, teeth, and gums.

Burning can also come from consistent mouthwash use, which causes irritated mouth tissue and can lead to mouth sores.

Dental Issues and Mouthwash

The mouthwash ingredients mentioned above can cause added pain for those with mouth ulcers, gingivitis, or bad breath.

Mouth ulcers, for example, will become worse with alcohol-based rinses. The menthol irritates the wounds and alcohol’s drying properties delay the healing process.

Gingivitis and plaque can be reduced by using mouthwash when combined with daily brushing and flossing. Mouthwash does a great job removing plaque, but with gingivitis, the alcohol can cause added pain in your mouth.

If you experience an adverse reaction to a mouth rinse, stop using it and talk to your dentist right away. Some non-alcohol mouth rinses are available as alternatives. Ask your dentist.

So, how can you solve the mouthwash burn? Get back to basics — creating a consistent brushing and flossing routine can work wonders for your oral health. But if you prefer the whole suite of smile tools, look for a therapeutic, alcohol-free mouthwash with low amounts of menthol. Ask your dentist for a recommendation.