Updated: Oct 29
Using Listerine mouthwash can potentially stain your teeth but personally, we haven't had any of our patients come in with stains from it.
You may be thinking that Listerine must be bad but that isn't true because the staining isn't unique to it. Most mouth rinses can potentially stain your teeth if they're colored.
Nevertheless, it is still of our opinion that the benefits of using a mouth rinse outweighs not using one at all.
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Listerine can stain your teeth
Yes, rinsing with Listerine mouthwash can potentially stain your teeth because the liquid is colored. As a matter of fact, they do have multiple product lines and they are all vibrantly colored thus they will possess staining potential.
There was a research study which tested tooth discoloration of six different mouthwashes on 70 extracted teeth.
Teeth were exposed to 2 minutes of rinsing for 3 weeks total.
The Listerine Cool Mint group exhibited the greatest amount of staining.
The study above is definitive proof that this mouth rinse can in fact cause extrinsic staining on the surfaces of the enamel.
How it causes staining
Teeth staining from rinsing with Listerine is caused by the colored dye that is used for the solution. In other words, it is the dye that is added to the mouthwash which gives it its vibrant color that is causing the stains on teeth.
As an example, the cool mint Listerine below contains the dye (Green 3).
It is due to the dye (green 3) which gives the mouthwash its distinctive color as well as its teeth staining ability. If there was no dye added to this mouthwash, it would not be this color nor would it cause any type of extrinsic stain on your dentition.
Do all Listerines cause staining?
Unfortunately, most of the Listerine mouthwashes can potentially cause staining because they all contain some type of colored dye. The color of each product may different but you can pretty much expect them all to be vibrantly colored.
The image below shows a sample of their product offering and how colorful all of their mouthwashes are. As you may have guessed, yes they all possess staining capabilities.
In summary, most of them will probably cause staining unless you can find one that has no color in it.
How to remove listerine stains
The type of tooth stains this mouthwash causes is of extrinsic origins. That means it should come off with as long as you brush twice a day with a whitening toothpaste.
Examples of potent whitening toothpastes:
Optic white advanced whitening toothpaste (2% peroxide)
Optic white renewal toothpaste (3% peroxide)
Optic white pro series toothpaste (5% peroxide)
These whitening toothpastes can remove the mouthwash stains via mechanical abrasion and chemical oxidation.
Mechanical abrasion. They contain whitening abrasives like hydrated silica and titanium dioxide which can scrub away the listerine stains on your enamel. This is a very physical endeavor akin to scrubbing a dinner plate with a sponge.
Chemical oxidation. They contain hydrogen peroxide which can bleach the stains into a whiter color. This is similar to what you would consider as traditional teeth whitening.
Although if you have trouble removing it from your teeth you can always get a professional dental cleaning or try whitening your teeth with your dentist. Alternatively, OTC whitening products like the strips, pen, and peroxide mouthwashes will work as well.
Do other mouthwashes stain teeth?
Aside from Listerine, other brands of mouthwashes will also stain your teeth because most of them contain color dyes. Brands make them this way because a colored liquid is a lot more visually attractive than a colorless mouth rinse.
Most staining mouthwash
These over the counter mouth rinses, Listerine and ACT, are not the most staining mouthwashes. The winner goes to Chlorhexidine gluconate oral rinse, which is a prescription antibiotic mouthwash.
Studies have shown that it can cause brown staining on your teeth if you use it long term. Apparently the rinse is highly polarized and it attracts food/drink stains like a magnet.
Least staining mouthwash
The least staining mouthwashes would be a salt water rinse or a whitening mouthwash that contains peroxide.
Salt water rinse. Plain water with salt does not contain any color or dyes whatsoever. What that means is, it does not possess the capability to cause stains on your dentition.
Peroxide based mouthwash. There are mouthwashes which were created specifically to whiten or bleach your teeth. These all contain hydrogen peroxide which helps to oxidize stains and an example would be the optic white mouthwash which is colorless.
The image above shows the colgate optic white mouthwash which is colorless. Yes, there is liquid in the bottle cap but you can barely see it since the color is transparent.
Basically if you want to use a rinse that won't cause tooth discoloration, you should use one without color or one with whitening in it. Both of these two options will not affect your tooth color even if you rinse with them long term.
As a matter of fact, using the whitening mouth rinse will make your teeth whiter instead. Studies have shown it to be effective in bleaching your dentition and making them lighter in color over time.
Mouthwash is still beneficial to use
While colored mouthwash can stain your enamel, it is still beneficial to use because the pros outweigh the cons.
Kills bacteria (anti-septic).
Keeps breath fresh.
Potential staining but we've never seen it.
Alcohol based ones can burn.
We've never had a single patient end up with stained teeth from using OTC mouth rinses. The only time we see staining from rinsing is with using chlorhexidine oral rinse.
The American Dental Association recommends using mouthwash since it is helpful for your oral hygiene. Although they do explicitly say that it is not a replacement for brushing and flossing. It serves as a useful adjunct to it.
Listerine mouthwash can cause tooth discoloration because of the colored dye in its formulation. If you can find a colorless version of it, it will not cause any staining at all.
Nevertheless, we've personally never had a single patient at our office come in with severe mouthwash staining from OTC rinses. Therefore, we must say that while it is a possibility it is most likely extremely rare.
In our opinion, you shouldn't let the potential discoloration deter you from using it on a daily basis. After all, even if it did cause stains, it would still come off during the dental cleaning.