Can you use Listerine for a tooth infection?

Updated: Jul 17

Are you looking for a home remedy for your dental infection and you have a bottle of Listerine sitting on your counter? Wondering if it will work?



Listerine mouth wash

Table of Contents


Benefits of Listerine as a mouthwash

Listerine is a fantastic mouthwash and it does precisely what it claims to do.

  • It removes 99.9% of germs.

  • Helps with preventing gum problems

  • Fights bad breath

  • And reduces plaque

Those are all wonderful effects and would surely help your oral hygiene regime and all it takes is just a 30 second rinse twice a day. Studies have shown that it can kill all microorganisms in 10-30 seconds. It is able to provide these benefits because of the ingredients within it.


Listerine ingredients:

  • Four essential oils - Thymol, Eucalptol, Menthol, Methyl Salicylate

  • Water - the base of the product

  • Alcohol - helps to dissolve the essential oils

  • Sorbitol - provides hydration and sweetness for flavor enhancement

  • Sucralose - sweetener

  • Sodium Benzoate - adjusts the product pH

  • Benzoic Acid - prevents microbial growth and adjusts the pH

  • Sodium saccharin - adds sweetness

  • Poloxamer 407 - helps to mix the essential oils and removes food particles


Despite all of these antiseptic properties of Listerine, if you are wondering if you could use it for tooth pain, you may be over reaching. It may help in certain situations but not all.



Will Listerine kill a tooth infection?

No where does it claim that this mouth rinse can fight or reduce teeth pain. It does remove germs but that may not necessarily give you the desired effect of being dental pain free. So if you are having pain from your tooth and you use this mouthwash, your mouth may feel fresh and that may be it.


The reason is that a tooth infection has usually spread beyond the outer surface of the tooth. A mouth rinse can rinse the outer enamel really well but it won't be able to get into the inside of the tooth where the infection is, especially if it has reached the bone.


Tooth infection in the bone
Tooth infection in the bone

Look at where the tooth infection is on this dental x ray. Do you see that big dark circle at the tip of the root? Only one tooth has this big dark circle and where it is located is in the bone. There is no way the Listerine will get into the bone and fight the infection so this makes it ineffective.



Will Listerine kill a tooth nerve?

Okay, so it doesn't work for pain but will the Listerine kill the tooth nerve at least?


Unfortunately the answer is still the same. The label does not say anything about rectifying nerve pain from your teeth. The answer to that is more physical because the nerve of the tooth is actually inside of the tooth. The nerves are not on the outside so you can't get to it. The only way to get to the nerve is to "open" up the tooth. There is no way you'll be able to open up your tooth yourself.


Opened up tooth
Opened up tooth

The tooth needs to be opened up like the photo above for the mouth rinse to get to it. The only person who can open up your tooth like this would be a dentist such as any one of our LIC dentists. If you come to our long island city office, we'll be more than happy to help you with that!


Last but not least, are you still wondering what is the best mouthwash for a tooth infection, since it can't kill tooth pain nor can it kill the nerve, so what can it do?



Will a mouthwash kill a gum infection?

The answer would be, it depends because if the infection is coming from the tooth you may be out of luck such as in the situations listed above. Although if the infection is coming from the gums which surrounds the tooth, Listerine may be helpful. In fact, it may be the best mouthwash for a gum infection.


Gum swelling

Gum infections can be caused by germs and also by plaque. Listerine does just that, reduces germs and plaque. If you have plaque and tartar sitting next to your gums, it can swell up like in the photo above. The mouth rinse can certainly help in controlling the swollen gums. It may not cure it completely but it can at least prevent it from getting even worse.


There is a caveat though, if your soft plaque has turned into hard plaque, it is called calculus. Calculus cannot be removed by Listerine. The hard calculus or hard tartar can only be removed by a professional dentist or dental hygienist. In that case, you would be required to schedule an appointment with our LIC office because the Listerine would not be able to help you.


Hard Plaque
Hard Plaque

Other scenarios where the mouth rinse can't help

Last but not least, another instance where the mouth rinse would not help would be if the infection turns into severe facial swelling from a tooth abscess. This is when your face just swells up so much that it looks like you gained weight.



Tooth infections causing swellings like this is a full blown abscess would need to be drained by a healthcare professional. A home remedy like Listerine cannot fight this type of facial swelling. If you happen to have this, you would need to go see a specialist, an oral surgeon, or go to your local emergency department of a hospital.




Verdict: Does mouthwash help with tooth pain?

Unfortunately, most mouthwash do not help with tooth pain nor will they stop a toothache. The reason is because Listerine is an antiseptic mouthwash and not an antibacterial mouthwash.

  • Antiseptic mouthwash. They don't require a prescription and their purpose is to help control plaque from building up. This means that the mouth rinse is used to prevention infections and not stop them.

  • Antibacterial mouthwash. They require a prescription but their purpose is to control an active infection. They may be used to prevent infections but typically they are only used after an infection has occured.

So, if you were looking at Listerine as the best mouthwash for a toothache to get pain relief, you may be out of luck since it is an antiseptic rinse. Even though the ingredients within Listerine can fight bacteria, there is still no way for it to reach the nerve and offer any pain relief. Unfortunately, only your dentist will be able to give you pain relief from a toothache.



Takeaway

Listerine is one of the best mouthwash for fighting germs and plaque but it's ability to kill certain infections may be limited. When in doubt it is always best to schedule a consultation with one of our dentists in long island city! If you can't get an appointment or won't be able to make it in, there are some home remedies that can temporarily help.

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!