Is Alcohol Mouthwash Bad for Your Teeth and Gums?

Mouthwashes are liquids used in dental care to freshen up the breath, combat plaque, and manage various oral conditions. There are different types of mouthwashes available, both as prescription and over-the-counter rinses, depending on their constituting ingredients and function.


You may have come across an alarm sounder who warned you against the use of alcohol-based mouthwashes. But what really is the truth behind it? Are alcohol-based mouthwashes really bad for you? Let us find out!


What Are Alcohol-Based Mouthwashes?

Alcohol-based mouthwashes are easily available over the counter. Most people find using it creates a tingling or burning sensation in the mouth. It even tends to dry out the mouth. This is just the effect of alcohol present in it.


The percentage of alcohol (ethanol) found in most commonly used alcohol-based mouthwashes can be nearly as high as 26%. This percentage is much higher than what is found in most alcoholic beverages! For a baseline, standard beer has only 5% alcohol content.


Since it is common knowledge that alcohol kills bacteria and germs, you might assume that the alcohol in the mouthwash is for antiseptic purposes. You could not be more wrong!


The alcohol used in such mouthwashes is for the sake of preservation rather than to offer an antiseptic effect.


For any solution to act as a disinfectant, its alcohol content should be at least 70%. An alcohol-based mouthwash falls extremely short of this percentage. Therefore, the presence of alcohol in the mouthwash does not help in fighting oral germs or bacteria.


Besides alcohol being the predominant ingredient, there are several other ingredients in these mouthwashes that may have an adverse effect on the health of the teeth and gums.


What Are the Risk Factors Associated with Its Use?

There are several risk factors and side effects associated with the use of alcohol-based mouthwashes.


Wearing Down of the Enamel

Certain studies have shown that these mouthwashes are highly acidic. Acidity is detrimental to the health of enamel, which is the outermost protective layer of the teeth.


Once enamel erosion occurs, it affects the overall health of the oral cavity. Over time, the use of alcohol-based mouthwashes could lead to enamel wear-down, eventually leading to decay, disease, and even loss of the tooth.


Meanwhile, other studies associate the use of alcohol mouthwashes with the degradation of dental work such as fillings.


Dry Mouth

Another risk factor associated with the use of alcohol mouthwashes is the irritating presence of a dry mouth or worsening of the preexisting condition. A dry mouth is a red flag for oral health. Saliva offers protection by preventing the formation of cavities.


A dry mouth negates that. It would thwart the protection and provide an environment for bacteria to thrive. While it may seem like the mouthwash is treating bad breath, it is only covering up the problem. Instead, it makes the problem worse by letting bacteria thrive, courtesy of the alcohol.


Burning Pain

The presence of a higher percentage of alcohol is responsible for the burning sensation you feel when you use an alcohol mouthwash. Consistent use irritates the tissue in your oral cavity and could lead to sores. It will also worsen the condition of any preexisting sores.



Some studies point toward an increased risk of carcinogenic activity with the prolonged use of alcohol-based mouthwashes.


Alcohol is classified as a human carcinogen, and its high level of presence in the mouthwash is seemingly associated with an increased risk of developing some form of cancer in the neck and head.


What Are the Alternatives?

Now that you are aware of the risk factors associated with alcohol-based mouthwashes, you should stay clear of them. The market is bursting with hundreds of options for mouthwashes that are both alcohol-free and safe.


If you are not sure of a safe option, consult your dentist and get a vetted mouthwash. Ensure that you do not overuse any mouthwash, as overuse of it comes with its own side effects.


The Final Word

Mouthwashes can be a critical part of your oral hygiene but not a substitute for it. They are not entirely necessary for people with healthy teeth and gums, but they are effective in freshening up stale breath. They are a personal choice.


In some cases, they can be prescribed by the dentist to manage various oral conditions.


However, given the multiple risk factors of alcohol mouthwashes, it would bode well to steer clear of them and opt for safer options. When in doubt—consult a professional!