If you are looking to improve your oral health, you might be considering hydrogen peroxide mouthwash. The good news is that it can be an effective way to combat gum disease if you combine it with regular brushing and flossing. Some people also use it for canker sores and as a sore throat remedy.
The bad news is that this approach also has some side effects. You have to balance the good and the bad before deciding if this oral rinse is a worthwhile addition to your regular hygiene routine.
The Proper Concentration of Hydrogen Peroxide
There are conflicting accounts of the proper dilution of hydrogen peroxide. You should start with the typical “medicine cabinet” strength peroxide. This is the standard brown bottle that you might have around for putting on cuts. If you’re not sure what you have, check the label for the concentration. It should say “3% peroxide.”
Recommendations range from ¼ strength (0.75% peroxide, made with 1 part peroxide to 3 parts water) to ½ strength (1.5% peroxide, made with 1 part peroxide to 1 part water). This recommendation for gargling with hydrogen peroxide says you should use it ⅓ strength (1% peroxide, made with 1 part peroxide to 2 parts water).
Interestingly, this study shows that the ¼ strength peroxide reduced the concentration of oral bacteria, but ½ strength did not. So it seems that perhaps weaker solutions might be a better choice.
Incidentally, these are all much less than the concentration of peroxide used in teeth whitening. Most studies show that you won’t see much whitening from rinsing at this concentration.
What Hydrogen Peroxide Can Do
Most people use hydrogen peroxide for three purposes: gum disease, canker sores, and sore throat.
Hydrogen peroxide can be effective at controlling gum disease. A recent study compared results from people who got a deep cleaning (also called “root debridement” or “scaling and root planing,” though there are some subtle differences in the exact techniques) with or without peroxide. It showed that using peroxide improved the results. But this isn’t the same as a mouth rinse.
The evidence that it works is promising. However, it’s not strong. If you don’t like the side effects, it’s not worth it.
Canker sores (aphthous stomatitis) are another condition caused in part by oral bacteria. People use peroxide to kill associated bacteria and remove some of the damaged tissue. The evidence for this treatment is largely anecdotal. We don’t have studies to show that it works. But enough people report that it does, and the theory is sound.
Again, this comes down to side effects. If you don’t like them, it’s not worth it.
It’s an old home remedy: gargle with peroxide to relieve a sore throat. It might work sometimes, but there’s no real evidence that it’s effective. We think the closest to real evidence is a study on life-threatening necrotizing fasciitis of the neck, which is a bacterial infection that usually comes from your teeth, either gum disease, cavities, or infected teeth.
The theory is the same as with the other treatments: its antibacterial properties can reduce a sore throat. But there’s a big problem: many sore throats aren’t related to bacteria at all. Many of them are viral. That means that you’re basically betting on the gargle to kill enough of the irritated tissue to make your throat feel better. That seems like a bad bet.
If you’re looking for a home remedy that can control a sore throat (potentially with side effects) consider gargling with a cayenne solution. In that case, the active ingredient that makes the chili spicy (capsaicin) has proven effectiveness as a topical pain reliever.
Side Effects of Hydrogen Peroxide Mouthwash
So, what are the potential side effects of a hydrogen peroxide mouthwash?
Most people feel irritation in their mouth when using this. If you have sores, it can really sting pretty bad. This should be minor, though, and it should go away within a few hours. If it doesn’t, you should stop using a peroxide mouthwash or gargle.
And then there’s the taste. Peroxide flavor is rarely a favorite, and it can be a challenge just to swish it around the mouth for long enough to achieve effectiveness.
Peroxide can also dry out the mouth. Your mouth might feel dry right away, and it can take time for your saliva to naturally restore moisture. This can be a problem: saliva is also one of your body’s natural defenses against oral bacteria. It antibacterial properties have not been tested directly against peroxide gargle, but we’d bet that saliva is better. Plus, saliva contains compounds that help your teeth remineralize–repair minor damage to the tooth enamel before cavities develop. If you notice that a peroxide gargle at night leaves your mouth feeling dry in the morning, it might not be the best choice.
You shouldn’t swallow the peroxide solution. If you do, you might develop nausea and may even vomit a worrying foamy solution. Don’t panic: at the strength of these solutions, it’s unlikely to cause a serious problem. However, it is possible to get serious stomach irritation from the use of a 3% peroxide solution. A rare case report shows that a woman developed gastrointestinal irritation after four weeks using peroxide as part of root canal therapy. But even in this case, the problem wasn’t too serious. After she stopped using peroxide, the irritation resolved normally without further treatment.
Peroxide Mouthwash Might Not Be Worth It
While there are potential benefits of using a peroxide mouthwash, they are slight and aren’t well-supported. The side effects are usually mild, but if they’re unpleasant for you, it might not be worth it, especially when there are so many better alternatives.
If you are looking to improve your oral health, working with a dentist can help you design a custom home hygiene routine that works best for you. Using scientifically proven products like CariFree can usually get better results than at-home remedies.