Should you avoid alcohol in mouthwash? - truthpaste
July 14, 2023

Should you avoid alcohol in mouthwash?

By Karla Macey

 Mouthwash can be a great addition to your daily oral hygiene routine. It is recommended to use either before brushing or about an hour after to avoid washing away all the goodness that your toothpaste provides. 

It is a great breath freshener, and most contain a small amount of fluoride which can help in the fight against cavities. Some also have properties to assist with good gum health which is just as important as tooth health. 

Does mouthwash containing  alcohol get rid of bacteria?

In order to have a clean, healthy mouth we know that we need to eliminate bacteria from there. We also know that alcohol is a well known germ buster, so it would make sense to purchase a mouthwash containing alcohol right? Hmm, not necessarily. In theory it definitely makes sense if you want something to kill off germs. However, the unfortunate reality is that there are many cons to having alcohol in a mouthwash and very few pros. 

Alcohol can be very powerful, too strong and harsh for the mouth. Yes, it will destroy bacteria but it can also be terribly irritating to the gums, tongue, soft tissues and the enamel of the teeth. It can be so powerful that it will actually also destroy the good bacteria in your mouth which is needed to restore a healthy PH balance within your mouth. 

Does alcohol in mouthwash harm gums?

Swishing alcohol mouthwash around will be coating all the areas of your mouth which has the potential to cause a painful, burning sensation. This can be extremely uncomfortable and damaging. It also has a very drying effect and suppresses the saliva production. It's like it’s stripping the goodness away from your mouth. If any of you have tried alcohol mouthwash you may well know exactly the feeling that I’m talking about. Ouch! Especially if you happen to have a mouthful of ulcers! 

Alcohol mouthwash is very harsh on the gums too which are the foundations that our teeth rely on to stay in our head. We need these. They’re absolutely essential to be able to keep teeth so we need them damage free and in tip top condition. 


Does alcohol in mouthwash damage enamel?

Alcohol and enamel are definitely not on each other's Christmas card lists! 

It’s a well known fact that tooth enamel is the hardest substance of the body. Teeth are very very strong, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’re immune to the harmful effects of alcohol. Sadly they’re not. The mouthwash will be bathing them in liquid with each rinse, and 


Alcohol is a highly acidic substance, and even the small amounts in a mouthwash can cause a lot of damage. Literally melting away the teeth’s coatings causing possible acid erosion and sensitivity. Again, I’m sure many of you reading this will have suffered from sensitivity to some degree at some time in your life. It is not nice. The sharp shooting pain can be terribly painful and it’s definitely a feeling that we could all do without. The more that you can do to avoid it the better I say! 


Is mouthwash with alcohol linked to mouth cancer?

It’s no secret that there are links between alcohol intake and some cancers, although most studies in this area pertain to alcoholic drinks, rather than mouthwash. There is conflicting evidence from a few studies regarding mouthwash. Currently, according to Cancer research UK, there is not enough evidence to suggest that the alcohol in mouthwash can be linked to an increased risk of mouth cancer. While this is of course good news I still believe that the damage that it causes in other ways is enough reason for it to be left on the shelf anyway! 


Do dental professionals recommend alcohol in mouthwash?

If you have read all that I have had to say and think “You know what, alcohol mouthwash is best for me” then that’s fine too. As a dental professional it is my job to warn and inform you of any risks, give you all of the information that I can but the choice at the end of the day absolutely has to be yours. It’s totally up to you. People have to do what they feel is right for them and rightly so. 

Your routine should be tailored to what you think is best for you and your family. Same as we often suggest electric toothbrushes to patients but that doesn’t mean that every patient will want to buy one. It’s all about personal choice and what works for you.

Some people would rather not use any mouthwash at all, which is also fine. Many dentists will agree that although it can be a good addition to a dental care routine, nothing will ever beat proper cleaning twice a day and using interdental aids such as floss, tape or interdental brushes. 


So of course, I will leave it up to you to decide what you think is going to be the best option for you. For those of you who do decide that you would like to add/keep mouthwash in your routines I really hope that I have not scared you off too much with my horror stories of the alcohol versions! Please be aware that there are many, many brands widely available,  all different price ranges that come without alcohol. Kinder to the mouth and they will be easily identifiable. It’s just a simple case of reading labels, and actually a lot of major brands don’t use alcohol anymore anyway. So don’t panic! You will definitely find something that suits you. I’ll sign off for now, thank you so much for reading and happy shopping and happy rinsing! 



Karla Macey is the oral health educator/TCO at Trallwn dental surgery, a mixed NHS and private practice in Swansea, South Wales

Karla Macey

Trallwn Dental Surgery 


About the author

Karla Macey is the dental health educator and treatment co-ordinator at Trallwn Dental Surgery; a mixed NHS and private practice in Swansea, South Wales.