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What Causes Mouthwash Burn?

  • by GR0
  • 6 min read

A holistic dental hygiene routine goes something like this: first, you brush your teeth twice daily, preferably with an electric toothbrush. Then you'll also use a fluoride-free toothpaste to get rid of extra bacteria without weakening your teeth's enamel. You'll also want to floss twice-daily to get rid of any plaque or bacteria between your teeth.

There’s one more step! You still need to use mouthwash. If you use mouthwash, you can thoroughly cleanse your mouth of bacteria and leave yourself with minty fresh breath for up to several hours at a time.

But, lots of people don’t like using mouthwash thanks to the burn it leaves as a side effect. But what exactly causes mouthwash burn, and is there any way to avoid it? Let’s break down both of these questions now. 

What Does Mouthwash Do?

To understand why mouthwash burns, we first have to look at what mouthwash accomplishes.

Modern mouthwash products,like Dr. Brite’s mouthwash collection, are designed to do two things: freshen your breath and kill bacteria on your tongue and around your gums. Mouthwashes usually work by assuming that people get rid of most of the plaque and bacteria on and around their teeth through brushing and flossing.

But most people also don’t directly brush their tongues, which can be hotspots for bacteria growth. 

Don’t believe us? Just stick your tongue out in the mirror as far as you can and look at the whitish spots on the back. That’s bacteria!

Mouthwash can help take care of that and leave you with minty fresh breath for the rest of the day. It’s a great solution, especially for folks withregular halitosis.

However, mouthwash commonly burns due tohow it kills germs and bacteria -- the majority of mouthwash products use alcohol.

Why Does Mouthwash Burn?

Have you ever had a drink with high alcohol content, i.e. any hard liquor, and experienced a burning sensation? That’s because alcohol causes a slight burning feeling when it hits your tongue and the sensitive cells of your throat. That burn is exactly the same thing that you might experience when you switch mouthwash around your mouth.

Alcohol is an excellent active ingredient for mouthwash products since it’santiseptic. As an antiseptic component, alcohol can tear apart bacteria and viruses and make your mouth sterile against most types of foreign cells.

However, you might also prefer mouthwashes without alcohol. In that case, shouldn’t the burn automatically go away? Not necessarily.

Certain ingredients, such as chlorhexidine, can help reduce plaque and fight off the symptoms of gingivitis, but, these can also lead to allergic reactions or cause burning sensations in your mouth.

Furthermore,teeth whitening mouthwash usually contains hydrogen peroxide: a critical ingredient that causes tingling bubbles on the surface of your tongue and gums. Basically, mouthwash can cause a burning sensation either because of alcohol or because of secondary side effects due to other active ingredients.

Many people instead turn to other teeth whitening products, like our extreme whitening kit, to boost their smile and fix any discolorations they see in their teeth. We even make severalwhitening pens right here at Dr. Brite – they’re usually more comfortable than using a whitening mouthwash.

Regardless, most mouthwash products cause burning sensations along your tongue, which is where all of your taste buds are. It’s arguably the most sensitive part of your entire mouth.

Common Ingredients in Mouthwash

Let’s take a look at some of the most common ingredients in mouthwash products and why they might cause a burning sensation in your mouth.

  • Alcohol– This is the most common mouthwash active ingredient. In fact, some mouthwash formulas may contain over 25% alcohol, which is why many of them produce a burning sensation in those who use them.
  • Menthol– Lots of mouthwash is formulated with menthol as well since alcohol alone isn't always enough to get rid of all bad bacteria in your mouth. Menthol is another excellent active ingredient, but it can cause a "cool-hot" sensation on your tongue and around your gums.
  • Chlorhexidine – This ingredient can fight off gingivitis and reduce plaque buildup. However, it can also cause a burning sensation as a side effect due to an allergic reaction. You should only ever use chlorhexidine mouthwash products after getting cleared by your dentist.
  • Cetylpyridinium chloride – This specific ingredient is designed to get rid of bad breath-causing bacteria. Like chlorhexidine, some individuals also have rare allergic reactions and may experience a burning sensation as a result.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – Some mouthwash is designed specifically to whiten your teeth may contain this ingredient. Hydrogen peroxide makes bubbles form on your tongue, resulting in a strange burning sensation that’s distinct from other burns.
  • Essential oils– These are oils like peppermint oil, thyme oil, and eucalyptus oil. Many of them are included in mouthwash products to freshen the breath and induce a more present experience. But some people experience a burning sensation instead.

Should You Still Use Mouthwash?

Absolutely! Mouthwash is an excellent ancillary dental hygiene product that can get rid of extra bacteria and lead to fresh breath more consistently. Remember, it's important to brush and floss your teeth, but it's almost impossible to get rid of all the bacteria in your mouth, even if you have your technique down pat. This is one of the reasons why it's so important to still go to the dentist for a twice-yearly cleaning.

Mouthwash can help get rid of the extra bacteria your brush and floss might miss. Furthermore, even if one mouthwash burns every time you use it, that doesn’t mean that every mouthwash will produce an unpleasant experience.

Some mouthwashes, like some of the bottles we produce at Dr. Brite, are specifically formulated to help folks with sensitive mouths still benefit from mouthwash each day.

For instance, ourSensitivity Relief Mouthwash is formulated specifically for people who can’t really tolerate regular mouthwash products. It's formulated without parabens, sulfates, and other potentially toxic chemicals and compounds. Instead, we use several essential oils and natural ingredients to get rid of negative bacteria in your mouth and leave you feeling clean and refreshed after every swish.

It’s even formulated with a refreshing mint flavor so you’re left smiling every day!

How to Use Mouthwash Properly (Without It Burning Too Much) 

Remember that most mouthwash bottles will have recommended swishing times listed on their backs or caps. For most mouthwash products, swishing the solution around for between 30 seconds and 60 seconds is usually more than enough. All you have to do is put a small amount of the solution in your mouth, swish it around for the recommended amount of time, and spit!

It’s not recommended to swish mouthwash around for longer than average. You might feel like you’re getting rid of extra bacteria, but your mouthwash can only do so much. It’s not a good idea, for instance, to swish your mouthwash around for longer but skip over brushing your teeth.

All three pieces of a holistic dental hygiene routine – brushing, flossing, and mouthwash – are needed to get rid of most bacteria in your mouth.

If you try a mouthwash a few times and find that it burns your mouth way too much for you to last to 60 seconds, then try another bottle instead. There’s no reason that you have to stick with one formula or the other. Remember, alcohol-based mouthwashes are not necessarily better than other ones since there are many different ingredients that can get the job done.

Do All Mouthwashes Burn?

All mouthwashes are designed to produce a tingling and verylight burn in their users. If you’ve tried lots of different mouthwash varieties and still can’t find one that produces a pleasant tingling sensation, we recommend speaking to your dentist about alternatives.

They may be able to identify allergic reactions or conditions that prevent you from using mouthwash as comfortably as you should be able to. They may also be able to recommend different techniques or dental hygiene strategies you can use to keep your mouth healthy and clean even without regularly using regular mouthwash.

However, any mouthwash worth your time and money should at least tingle at a bare minimum. If you don’t feel anything when swishing a mouthwash around, it’s probably not doing a good enough job to actually clean.


In the end, mouthwash is just one part of an excellent dental hygiene routine. It’s an important one as well, but it’s not something you should endure needlessly if your mouthwash burns your mouth way too much for comfort.

It's a much better idea to find a mouthwash that gives you a pleasant tingling sensation or, barring that, focusing on alternatives for dental hygiene, like dental sprays. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any other questions or if you want to try outour mouthwash!