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Dental Hygiene: Can Mouthwash Backfire On You?

by Joe Bulger DDS

In my last post, I talked about Mouthwash and the Oral-Throat Cancer Link. I mentioned how the loss of your mucous shield makes you more vulnerable to cancer-causing agents.

What Cancer-Causing Agents?

Can mouthwash backfire and cause problems?

Your mouth is exposed to many different substances through food and beverages. Some of these can be harmful.

Cigarette smoke is an obvious risk factor for cancer. Add the fact that a smoker using mouthwash to cover up breath issues is practically automatic these days, and you’ve got the potential for a deadly combination.

Other causative agents may originate from the bacteria already in your mouth.

Here’s the thing. Your mouth is full of bacteria – mostly good bugs which hold the bad bugs in check. Zapping you mouth with an alcohol-based mouthwash may be exactly the opportunity the bad bugs need to gain the upper hand.

The bad news is those bad bugs tend to live underneath your gumline, where the alcohol rinse won’t easily reach. That means a mouthwash mostly kills off the good bugs and creates an open invitation for the bad ones to grow without restraint.

Put it this way, eliminating mass numbers of bacteria in your mouth with an alcohol-based rinse is like taking a flamethrower to your garden to eliminate the weeds. What grows back can be an even bigger problem.

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How Mouthwash Can Hurt You

You’re caught in a vicious mouthwash cycle that harms your oral health and can potentially threaten your life.

Bacterial infection of your gums can occur AFTER rinsing with a mouthwash. The “Rebound Effect” is about those nasty bugs growing back quickly and invading your gums.

Here’s how it happens… Once your mucous shield is stripped away, remaining bacteria can more easily penetrate your exposed tissues. That means the bugs that survive the mouthwash assault are able to invade with ferocity since your defenses are now stripped away.

With loss of saliva, you also lose the buffering capacity to limit damage caused by harsh chemicals. Damage to your teeth from sugar and dietary acids can accelerate the damage.

At your dental hygiene visit we would see red swollen gums that bleed easily, and lingering breath odor.

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Drawbacks to Losing Your Mucous Shield:

Here’s your wake up call regarding alcohol-based mouthwash and how it can backfire.

  1. Your mouth is dessicated (dried out) and feels uncomfortably dry.
  2. Your teeth stain far more easily from liquids such as tea, coffee and red wine.
  3. Exposed root surfaces become more sensitive, especially to cold air or water.
  4. Your teeth soften and become more prone to decay.
  5. Your teeth become more susceptible to acid damage from any dietary acid.
  6. Your teeth tend to  build up more bacterial plaque.
  7. You may develop Burning Mouth Syndrome.
  8. Your breath turns foul more quickly.

Here’s the kicker, the dryness of your mouth and Rebound Effect means you’ll soon have MORE of a bad breath issue. Thirty minutes after the mouthwash your breath is worse than ever.

That means you’ll be reaching for another swig of that mouthwash and your chances of recovering your mucous shield are further compromised. You’re caught in a vicious mouthwash cycle that harms your oral health and can potentially threaten your life.

That’s how your mouthwash can backfire on you.

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Fresh Breath Recovery with Dental Hygiene

Sugar-free gum is a terrific alternative to alcohol-based mouthwash.

One of the priorities of our hygiene team is to help people establish healthy habits to ensure they can continue enjoying a healthy beautiful smile.

Advice on fresh breath products is part of the guidance we offer. We help you achieve sustainable health.

If you want fresh breath (and who doesn’t?), you’ll need saliva stimulation and support, NOT something that will cause saliva suppression. If you want to rinse with something, use water or a mouthwash without the backfire like Biotene.

You want to be supporting your saliva instead of inhibiting it.

Sugar-free gum is another terrific alternative to alcohol-based mouthwash. Gum chewing stimulates your saliva production to naturally cleanse your mouth and freshen your breath.

One of the keys to helping people recover from chronic bad breath is to IMMEDIATELY get them off any alcohol-based mouthwash. Once they can recover a protective mucous shield, they’re on their way to fresh breath as well as lowering their risk of oral cancer and throat cancer.

If you would like to know more about how mouthwash can backfire, ask your dental hygienist. If they don’t have a clue as to what you’re talking about, perhaps it’s time to find a new dental hygienist.

Signature for a Toronto Cosmetic Dentist.

Dr. Joe :)


Dr. Joe Bulger

About the Author: is a West Toronto dentist. He’s also the owner-founder of Royal York Dental – a respected dental clinic serving Etobicoke since 1950.

If you would like to learn more about your dental options, fill out our contact form or CALL 416 231-0550 for a FREE & Easy No-Obligation First Visit.


{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michael Aviado September 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Does flossing help? Since most of the bacteria reside under your gums, would flossing regularly with brushing help reduce bad breath?

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2 Toronto-Etobicoke Dentist - Joe Bulger September 7, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Sure does Michael. Brushing and flossing is far superior to any rinse. Still, everyone is looking for that secret short cut.

Joe :D

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3 roxyd32 September 9, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Fresh breath is so important to most of us in life, thanks for this post.. I do have a question though. There are times wherein, one can floss, brush twice daily; and still have bad breath…(This has happened to me in the past and others that I have known– I’m not embarassed to say this, because the more that I talk about it, the more people I realize also suffer with the same thing..)– Anyway, this being said, what would you say is the cause of this type of bad breath… For a person that doesn’t drink very much pop, or acidic fruit, what else can cause bad breath? As well, there are numerous bad breath clinics, are they even worth going to or looking into? What is different between those clinics and a regular dental office?

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4 Toronto-Etobicoke Dentist - Joe Bulger September 16, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Hi Roxy. Sounds like stale mouth – that feeling you get every few hours through the day. Good topic for another post. My quick advise is to swish with water throughout the day, particularly before any work or social activity where you’ll be up close in personal range.

Joe :D

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5 Deb February 27, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Stomach problems, GERD, and sinus problems/infection can cause bad breath.

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6 Felicia @ No Deposit Poker September 14, 2010 at 5:41 am

Hi Dr. Joe, I didn’t know that mouthwash could be very harmful when used frequently. I only use mouthwash at least once a week but I do brush my teeth frequently and floss as needed, especially after meals and before going to bed. Thanks for directing me to this site!

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7 Toronto-Etobicoke Dentist - Joe Bulger September 15, 2010 at 5:07 am

Hi Felicia. Glad you came to visit my new blog here. Even more glad you take such good care of your smile. For mouthwash, just use non-alcohol or a salt-water rinse.

Joe :D

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8 Dr. Milica September 14, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Don’t forget the tried and true (and cheap) salt and water rinse. Inhibits bacteria growth and is natural :)

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9 Toronto-Etobicoke Dentist - Joe Bulger September 16, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Thanks Dr. Milica!

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10 artbrown304 December 7, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Great blog! I know a lot of people don’t let going to the dentist but it’s something we all have to do. I know of some great dentists in Charlotte.

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11 Rosa Gonzales September 25, 2010 at 5:33 am

Fresh breath is very important especially when talking to other person. One must have that in order to avoid feedbacks from them. We should have our proper dental hygiene.

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12 AmeriPlan September 27, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Seeing the dentist regularly is highly recommended, unfortunately many don’t take the time for regular checkups.

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13 Toronto-Etobicoke Dentist - Joe Bulger October 1, 2010 at 9:39 pm

So true. People on the Path of Pain are willing to pay for relief, but otherwise wouldn’t spend on dental care.

Joe :D

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14 Teeth Whitener November 1, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Fresh breath is the most important thing for making a good impression on somebody!

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15 Mandeep Gill November 16, 2010 at 3:14 am

Hi Dr. Joe

Very good detailed blog. I enjoyed reading it a lot. Bad bug and good bug caught my attention. I myself didnt know about the mouthwash being the bad guy in dentistry. :p

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16 Dental Hygiene Continuing Education November 24, 2010 at 6:32 am

Thanks for the information..
Apart from the obvious bad breath, toothache from bad teeth, fillings and the cost, it is very important to your health. If you do not look after your teeth you will lose them and have to have false ones.
Bad dental hygiene can cause stomach problems. Bacteria goes into the stomach from your mouth. You also suffer from ulcers, gum boils and even abscesses. Abscesses can form and after the excruciating pain you will certainly lose a perfectly healthy tooth. You will have to pay for antibiotics. Roots from one abscess can travel around the mouth and course others to form.
Gum disease like gingivitis means nasty stuff like having your gum lanced and cauterised and packed and then allowing the gum to regrow. Pyorrhoea means you most definitely will lose the teeth. Usually all of them. The decay goes beyond help.
Plenty of vitamin C is needed in your diet. However, if you eat oranges they are acid and so you should make sure you keep your mouth rinsed clean after eating. Or you will undo all the good by leaving acidity around the base of your teeth.
Teeth are for life and if looked after that is how long they will last.
Unless you get one knocked out by a base ball bat.

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17 Matt February 28, 2013 at 3:45 am

Yes teeth are for life but do realize life for humans has gone from thirty or so years to eighty or so years on average. Our teeth were certainly not meant to last this long and that’s where dental hygiene advances have stepped in to help us keep those valuable suckers over the increased lifespan.

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18 R Antia December 16, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Hello Dr. Joe,
I have a very unique problem and would like to know your views on this. I am still carrying baby tooths and have problems. I would like to have some good dental place who can provide me some solace with this problem. I would appreciate your advice. Thank You.

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19 Invisalign New York January 19, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Dr. Joe thanks for such an interesting post. I didn’t know that mouthwash could be so harmful. Frankly speaking i use it every day , but as i remember it’s non-alcohol.

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20 Jackie V Osborn June 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm

So if I am a smoker you wouldn’t recommend to use any mouthwash at all? I’ve been smoking for 8 years and I’ve used many different mouthwashers as well as teeth whitening systems but only now I’m starting to realize how big part my teeth are playing in my life therefore I’m looking for what is the best thing to do. I know!!!… quit smoking – trying but I’d prefer a different solution if there is one.

My main two problems are breath and teeth colour, even though I’ve used teeth whiteners before. My teeth always tend to get yellowish after a few weeks of teeth whitening. Coffee and cigarettes seems to kill them if I may say that. Look forward to your reply!

Many thanks,

Jackie

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21 Joe Bulger DDS June 20, 2011 at 11:44 am

Hi Jackie,

Regarding mouthwashes, stick to the non-alcohol variety. Drinking plenty of water and chewing sugar-free gum can also help.

Regarding whitening your teeth, coffee isn’t so bad. Get in the habit of swishing with water after you drink a cup and you’ll be fine. You probably give a quick rinse with your cup, so just do the same for your teeth.

Smoking is a different matter. You’ll be spinning your wheels trying to whiten if you keep smoking. Consider teeth whitening a reward for quitting, but don’t bother until that happens.

Good luck,
Dr. Joe

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22 Alberto June 20, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Years ago I learned how bad alcohol-mouthwash is for my (your) mouth and your health, then I found one which is completely natural that you can swallow it, instead of spit it out. And can use it as many times as you want since it is natural. It really tastes good! It is called: G19-mouthwash.
You will thank me each day for this information.

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23 FounderChurch March 18, 2014 at 11:13 am

What about Natures Answer product called PerioWash. I read all the ingredients and they are all natural, plus they don’t say Don’t Swallow on the label so it must be OK to swallow. I was thinking those good ingredients would be better off in my stomach than in the sink drain. What do you think. Founder

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24 Chemical Cleaning June 23, 2011 at 10:48 am

what do you think of herbal remedies doctor. I have stopped using flouride toothpaste altogether and use a tooth stick. I get less bleeding and my mouth feels more fresh. plus i can easily scrub my pallate and tongue with it.

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25 dental care charlotte October 27, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Thanks for sharing those tips!
I have recently quitted smoking because the cigarette plus the coffee made my tooth disastrous… So far it’s not too hard, I really hope that I will hold on!
Your article as another reason not to start again, thank you!

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26 dentistry Warsaw IN October 31, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Thanks for those precious tips!
It’s hard to know what to do with our health at home without going to the dentist!

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27 Chalis December 8, 2011 at 10:08 pm

I got a tongue ring this past weekend, and ever since I’ve been babying my mouth. I brush and swish after every time I eat and before I leave every morning. Now my tongue has a yellow film over it. Will switching to a non alcohol mouthwash make it eventually go away or am I doomed to go to a doctor and possibly have to take out my tongue ring and start taking antibiotics? It’s just so frustrating because I was gun-ho on proving to my dad that I could have a tongue ring without getting an infection. Now he is for sure going to make me take it out if I can’t make it dissapear before he notices. :( Please just tell me what I can to do to make it go away? It doesnt hurt and the actual puncture is pink and healthy.

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28 Joe Bulger DDS December 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Sounds like a yeast infection as a rebound effect from using that alcohol-based mouthwash.
Yes, it should gradually go away once you lay off that mouthwash.

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29 rogersash@Dental Hygienist Las Vegas March 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Thanks for providing us useful info. Killing of the germs from their teeth is not an easy task. There are countless bacteria has present in the mouth which targeted your teeth for damaging. So for avoiding these germs you should take alcohol based rinse mouthwash.

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30 Iony@brighteningteeth June 15, 2012 at 7:57 am

Cigarette is the most deadly thing for your teeth,no doubt. Is so hard to have whiter teeth but is so easy to destroy it.:)

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31 saqib August 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Sir, You probably have just saved my life or at least saved me from incredible suffering. I’ve just started heavy use of mouthwash. But since I’ve started using there has been strange ‘foaming’ (for the lack of better expression) in my mouth every morning. And I never had bad breath but now after starting to use mouthwash I have. The irony. Thank you for this.

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32 Tyler October 18, 2012 at 10:13 am

I wish I read this three weeks ago. It been years since I use mouthwash (I only brush and floss), and since I started, my tooth decay have sped up. I was shocked when there was a chip of a broken in my mouth. I was supposed to have a root canal eight years ago, but I guess my good germs kept it from falling apart. And now it finally lost due to the week long use of the mouthwash. I got to save up a thousand fast for a root canal.

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33 Ambika Choudhary Mahajan October 28, 2012 at 11:41 am

OMG!!
I cant believe I have been putting all those carcinogens just for a fresher breath!
Throwing away my Listerine right away!
Thanks for enlightening me. Tweeted, LIKE-d and shared it on Google plus too so that more friends can know about this.
:)

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34 Dark Penguin November 23, 2012 at 1:34 am

I’ve long since heard that alcoholic mouthwash isn’t great for one’s gums, but I’ve always found that non-alcoholic washes generate too much foam when gargling. (From the peroxide, perhaps?) Is there a non-alcoholic mouthwash that doesn’t have that drawback??

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35 Joe Bulger DDS November 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm

What you’re describing are the foaming agents added to traditional mouthwashes. You would be fine going with Listerine Zero.

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36 Roselyne Cossette December 11, 2012 at 4:11 am

My dentist recommended Peridex after dental crowns on my front teeth. I am experiencing intermittent gum pain on one tooth only. However, as Peridex may stain teeth, I do not wish to use it. What else could I use?

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37 Joe Bulger DDS December 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Hello Roselyne. The source of your pain is the first question. Pulpal (nerve) pain can manifest as gum pain. An anti-inflammatory could be helpful for you. I usually recommend ibuprofen taken with meals. You can test that out for a few days and see if things calm down.

Anti-bacterial mouthwashes such as Peridex are helpful for surgical scenarios (pre-op and post-op) and for treatment of moderate to advanced periodontal disease. It would probably have little to no benefit in your circumstances.

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38 Roselyne.Cossette December 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Thank you Dr Bulger.

I assume it it gum pain, as this particular tooth had a root canal years ago. Could it still be nerve pain?

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39 Joe Bulger DDS December 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm

If it had root canal treatment then you’re right, it wouldn’t be nerve pain. If there is any kind of residual infection dwelling inside the roots, the bone can remain irritated – making the tooth tender to touch. If it the infection flares, the gum next to that tooth can become irritated and start swelling. If the infection spreads further, the whole side of your face can swell up.

Another possibility is excess cement from the crown insertion aggravating your gum. Please have your dentist investigate.

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40 Roselyne.Cossette December 17, 2012 at 3:44 am

Many thanks Dr Bulger.

41 kira January 10, 2013 at 2:57 pm

i noticed after brushing my teeth and tongue and using pearl drop mouth wash the side of my cheek was slightly raw a little rough not as smooth as the right side of my inner cheek? but later that day i used some fresh mint mouth wash maybe using two different mouth washes was such a good idea? i also may have catched my taste buds at the back of my tongue on the left side they were enlarge but gone down slightly maybe that was coursed by brushing my tongue to hard. any ideas if i maybe right or should i see my dentist

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42 Joe Bulger DDS January 14, 2013 at 4:48 pm

The roughness can be from stripping away all the saliva coating. The tongue can feel quite rough without normal lubrication. Check with your dentist or hygienist next time you’re in.

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43 Lauren January 25, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Hi Dr. Bulger, I’m 20 years old and I don’t know when I started using mouthwash, but I’m guessing it’s been since Junior High at the earliest. I did not use it too often until I was maybe in my Senior Year of High School. I’m a bit of a germaphobe so recently (since around October) I’ve used it multiple times a day. Now I’m really scared because of the effects of alcohol-based mouthwashes. I am going to stop using it (I got rid of my Listerine bottle today) but I am still concerned. I get freaked out by these things very easily, is there anyway you could put my mind at ease?

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44 Izaac March 14, 2013 at 9:09 am

This article explained exactly what is happening to me. I have tried to use mouthwash three times in my life, but every time I did I would get very dry mouth all day, and very bad after-taste that will last until the next day. And after a couple of days of using mouthwash my gums would start to hurt for no reason (not even chewing on anything or eating anything). And after a few days like that, I would start getting like blisters on my gums. But just after a couple of days of discontinuing the mouthwash, my gums would go back to normal: completely free of pain and no more dry mouth. Now I understand why.

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45 Kevin March 18, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Wow, this explains a lot – I mean who would think that something like Crest “Pro-Health” would actually be “Anti-Health.” Why would such mouthwashes still be allowed in the market if they actually cause the opposite of what they claim to help? I, for one, am a victim of post-mouthwash plaque and breath issues, so I’m glad I found your article before I made things worse through continues mouthwash use. Thanks for posting this, and for keeping up with the replies.

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46 Samuel May 7, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Hello Dr, Joe

thanks for very interesting post, I didn’t know alcohol mouthwash is bad, and i liked the way you explained the good bug and the bad bugs,

i need to share this information with my dad, cause he always uses listerine and he smokes , tut tut.

thanks for the info again

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47 Swerve May 11, 2013 at 3:58 am

Keep in mind if you DO NOT rinse ignore this article. True, it destroys membrane but bad bacteria will die as long as you leave the mouthwash on for hours after.

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48 Chloe Chase July 17, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Brushing your tongue every time you brush your teeth is helpful. Very good article. Thanks.

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49 Caitlyn September 26, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Thanks for sharing this information about using mouthwash. I’m not a fan of using one, even before. What I do is just to brush my teeth at least ten minutes after meals and that works well for me. If I cannot do it, I drink lemon water and that does the trick until I can excuse myself and brush my teeth. :)

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50 Kristy October 9, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Hello,

I have been using Crest Whitening Mouth Rinse twice a day per directions. My teeth do appear whiter but I notice that along my gum line under my bottom teeth there are linear areas of redness…could the mouth rinse be irritating my gums? The gums do not bleed or appear swollen. Thanks!

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51 Jhon November 16, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Prevention is better than cure :)

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52 Satyanand April 20, 2014 at 10:13 am

Hello Dr. Joe,
I had a root canal six months ago. There was always a minor pain on the gum of that tooth. Whenever I use even a non alcoholic based mouthwash they pain becomes unbearable for couple of days. The pain gradually subsides when I take antibiotics for a couple of days.
Can you please tell me if I should not use even non alcoholic based mouthwashes.

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