Can Mouthwash Reduce the Risk of COVID-19 Transmission?


As COVID-19 continues to be a public health danger around the world, scientists are exploring different ways to fight back. Of course, vaccine trials are taking place, but there are a variety of studies related to how it’s transmitted and how to slow or even stop transmission. Wearing a mask, frequent hand washing and not touching your face, and maintaining social distance in public are all important steps to staying safer, but several new studies have been released looking at antibacterial mouthwash and if it’s a tool that can be used to reduce coronavirus. Our Fuquay Varina dentist is taking a closer look at what these studies are reporting and what this could mean for your health.

The Hypothesis of Mouthwash and COVID-19 Transmission, Explained

Beginning in spring of 2020, researchers began looking at whether publicly available mouthwashes, like the antibacterial options at the grocery store, could inhibit the transmission of COVID-19. The hope was that if trials were effective, this would be a way to minimize the spread until a vaccine was ready and publicly available.

“The Envelope, Please”

Coronaviruses, including COVID-19, is called an “enveloped” virus, meaning an outer membrane is created by drawing on the cells in the host, and that membrane is necessary to replication. Without it, the virus can’t multiply.

Currently, soap and water, antibacterial hand sanitizers, and disinfectants like bleach and Lysol can break down the envelope and kill the virus, which is why medical recommendations include washing your hands and disinfecting high-traffic surfaces.

The hypothesis is that mouthwash may also be able to disrupt the envelope. Since the virus is most likely to replicate in the throat, that’s where the concentration tends to be and that’s where it originates when it’s transmitted through sneezing, coughing, and talking. Thus, mouthwash killing off COVID-19 virus in the throat may be able to slow the spread. Prior to COVID-19, there was little to no studies related to how mouthwash affected viral envelopes, and so the study was based on speculative hypothesis.

The Results of Studying Oral Rinses Against COVID-19

One study published in Function by a team of researchers in Cardiff, Wales found that by studying how the ingredients commonly found in mouthwash, including chlorhexidine, hydrogen peroxide, and cetylpyridinium chloride reacted to mammalian cells, affected the lipid envelope around mammalian cells, which is what makes up the viral envelope. The literature review found that each of those ingredients could dissolve or disrupt the outer membrane, which meant it could effectively do the same with the COVID-19 virus.

While the researchers call for immediate study to see if they are effective, there have not been clinical trials specifically related to mouthwash and COVID-19. It’s also important to note that most alcohol-based sanitizers require at least 60 percent ethanol to be effective, while mouthwash often carries between 14 and 28 percent alcohol.

What Do the Mouthwash Companies Say?

Johnson & Johnson, the company who makes Listerine, a popular brand of oral rinse, put out a statement that while it kills 99.9 percent of germs that cause plaque and gingivitis, it’s not to be used as a prevention or treatment for COVID-19, and to stick with World Health Organization guidelines. It’s not intended to be gargled within the throat, so much that it should be swished around in the mouth.

Recommendations from a Fuquay Varina Dentist

At our office, we know that an ADA-approved mouthwash can support your dental health routine, helping to keep your breath fresh and reducing the bacteria that feeds off plaque. However, you should not use it to prevent or treat COVID-19 and instead, continue following WHO and CDC guidelines.

Schedule Your Next Dental Checkup With Us

If you are putting off a dental checkup over fears of coronavirus, we want to assure you that we do everything on our power to keep our patients and team safe and healthy. To learn more about the steps we are taking or to set up your teeth cleaning, reach out to us today at  919-552-2431 or schedule an appointment today.