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Is Rubbing Alcohol On Teeth Dentist Approved?

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

There are multiple ways to use rubbing alcohol on teeth but they're all ineffective at treating oral conditions. If you were hoping to use isopropyl alcohol as a home remedy for your mouth, gums, or teeth, you may want to consider alternative options.


rubbing alcohol - 70%
70% isopropyl alcohol

Nonetheless, we're going to explain why it doesn't work on every dental condition that you could think of. We'll give you some alternatives which will be much more helpful.


Table of contents:


Ways to use rubbing alcohol on teeth

There are three ways which you can apply rubbing alcohol onto your teeth.

  • Brushing with it as if it was a toothpaste.

  • Rinsing with it as if it was a mouthwash.

  • Dabbing it directly onto the teeth with a cotton ball or qtip.


Brush with it

In lieu of toothpaste, some people try to brush with rubbing alcohol as if it was one. The purpose is to use it to clean your teeth, get rid of bacteria, and possibly even whiten them.


How to do it:

  1. Apply isopropyl alcohol onto toothbrush.

  2. Brush your teeth for two minutes.


Our critique: Rubbing alcohol is an ineffective cleaning agent and it won't clean your teeth very well. It lacks a couple of properties that traditional toothpastes have.

  • Doesn't lather. Toothpastes often contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) which helps it lather and foam so that it cleans more easily. It makes brushing more pleasant.

  • Lacks abrasives. All toothpastes contain abrasives which is how they clean and whiten your teeth. The gritty texture of the paste is what helps your toothbrush scrub off tooth stains.

  • Doesn't whiten. Most modern toothpastes do containing whitening agents such as peroxide to help whiten your teeth but this doesn't have it.


Rinse with it

In lieu of mouthwash, you can try rinsing with rubbing alcohol to kill bacteria and freshen your breath. The idea probably stems from how a lot of mouthwashes like Listerine already contain alcohol in it.


How to do it:

  1. Measure out out 10 mL of isopropyl alcohol.

  2. Dilute it with 3x as much water in a 3:1 ratio.


Our critique: While most mouthwashes do indeed contain alcohol, they do not contain as much as isopropyl alcohol. In order to get the correct concentration, you will need to dilute it with water.


Listerine label - alcohol percentage

Most rubbing alcohol come in 70-90% alcohol while listerine is only 21.6% which makes it far less alcoholic than it. It certainly won't be very pleasant trying to rinse with such a high concentration without any dilution.


Then there is also the fact that it smells and tastes bad. At least Listerine has flavoring in there so it feels and tastes minty fresh. Mouthwash isn't exactly expensive either so we don't see why you'd choose that over this.


Dab it with a cotton ball

For a symptomatic tooth with pain, a common method is to saturate a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and then dab it onto the tooth. This is similar to how you use clove oil and various other essential oils for a toothache.


Our critique: While isopropyl alcohol may kill bacteria, it won't be very effective in treating your toothache. The reason is because it is not a pain reliever nor does it treat the source of the problem.


 

Safety concerns

There are adverse effects to using rubbing alcohol in your mouth and they all stem from the extremely high concentration of alcohol. According to the manufacturer's label on the product, it is only meant for external uses.


Rubbing alcohol label - warnings and purposes

Alcohol concentration compared to other products:

  • Rubbing alcohol - 70-90%

  • Listerine - 21.6%

  • Liquor like vodka, whisky, rum - 40%

  • Beer - 4%

  • Wine - 11-13%


Adverse effects from using it in the mouth:

  • Intoxication. If you absorb too much of it, you can become inebriated or drunk. There has been many cases about isopropyl alcohol intoxication with desperate alcoholics trying to get their fix.

  • Burning sensation. Whenever you used rubbing alcohol to disinfect a wound it would burn wouldn't it? It will definitely burn while it's in your mouth and it will hurt a lot more than listerine. After all it is about 4-5x more concentrated than it.

  • Gastric disturbances. According to the product label, taking it internally may cause serious gastric disturbances.


Can it damage your teeth?

Fortunately, rubbing alcohol is unlikely to damage your teeth since it does evaporate very quickly. It will burn your lips, cheeks, tongue, and gums while you're using it but it'll only be for a couple of seconds before it disappears.


Ever notice how it dries really quickly after disinfecting your wound? The same should happen unless you're using it as a mouthwash with a large quantity of it. It may take a long time for a mouthful to dissipate. We do not expect isopropyl alcohol to dissolve your enamel nor rot your teeth.


Alleged home remedy for various dental conditions

It's a common misconception that since rubbing alcohol is an effective antiseptic, it can be used to oral conditions. Unfortunately, that is not true since it can't treat the source of the problem.


We will go through various dental problems and explain why it won't work on them.


Gum infection

A gum abscess is typically due to a lodged foreign object in the gums. While the isopropyl alcohol may be effective in disinfecting the wound, it does nothing to address the stuck foreign object.


gum infection around crowns
gum infection around crowns

The only way to get rid of this infection is by draining the abscess and then removing said foreign body. Only your dentist can do that.


Tooth infection

The source of a tooth abscess is most commonly from an infected nerve which is located inside of the tooth. The only way to get rid of this infection is by removing the unhealthy nerve such as with a root canal or tooth extraction.


abscessed tooth
abscessed tooth

What makes the rubbing alcohol ineffective against a tooth infection is that it is unable to penetrate through the tooth to reach the abscess.


Toothache

Rubbing alcohol will have zero effect on treating your tooth pain because it is NOT a pain reliever. It is an antiseptic solution and is not pain medication! If you're having a toothache, it would be more helpful for you to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen instead.


Kill tooth nerve

Isopropyl alcohol cannot kill your tooth nerve because it can't reach the pulp nor was it ever designed to deaden it. The nerves of your teeth are located in the center of the tooth which makes it difficult for it to reach it. After all, your teeth are protected by an enamel and dentin layer.


Also if you think about it logically, if alcohol can kill your tooth's nerve, you'd have a mouth full of dead teeth by the time you graduate college. With the amount of partying most people do... it'd be surprising that anyone had vital teeth left!


If you want to kill the tooth nerve you should get a root canal or an extraction.


Teeth whitening

Most teeth whitening products utilize hydrogen peroxide or a derivative of it to oxidize stains from the enamel. Rubbing alcohol does not contain peroxide so it cannot whiten your teeth.


teeth staining
teeth staining

However, you may be interested to know that it can in fact remove stains but not the ones from your teeth. Alcohol as a solvent is actually good for removing synthetic stains like ink stains. What it does not do is remove organic stains like the ones on your teeth.


If you want whiter teeth, you should give proven whitening products a try.

  • Whitening strips

  • Professional whitening from your dentist


The Verdict

No, you shouldn't use rubbing alcohol on your teeth because it is ineffective for every oral condition that you can think of. You're better off using other products or seeing a dentist to take care of your dental problem.


So, is isopropyl alcohol on teeth dentist approved? That would be a hard NO from our dentists in Long Island City. If you need help, schedule a dental consultation and have it treated professionally.

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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!

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