Why Does Mouthwash Burn My Tongue? Dentist Explains

Why does mouthwash burn my tongue

Mouthwash is one of the pillars of oral hygiene. Although it is not as important as brushing or flossing and certainly not needed by everyone.

It does however add to the protection and cleanliness of your mouth.

There are a lot of brands of mouthwashes on the market and a lot of uses. From preventing cavities to limiting sensitivity and even fighting bad breath.

But the common factor about almost all of them is the way it feels inside the mouth. People who use it regularly sure have wondered “why does mouthwash burn my tongue?”

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Understanding the structure of your tongue

Why does mouthwash sting my tongue? First of all, let’s establish that mouthwash hits the tongue first on its way inside the mouth.

The tongue is a very strong muscle capable of swishing the liquid around your mouth to reach all areas. So it is only reasonable to assume that the tongue is the organ that suffers the first hit from the liquid.

Therefore being the organ that burns and hurts the most.

Add to that the fact that the structure of the surface of the tongue is unlike any other structure inside the mouth. It has taste buds and papillae, which are essentially gaps where the mouthwash can penetrate with ease.

This is why the the tongue above all other organs suffers the effects of mouthwash.

So why does mouthwash burn my tongue?

We’ve established the structure of the tongue and how it is covered by grooves and holes called papillae. Which are focused on the tip, sides and most posterior part of the tongue next to your throat. There is also taste buds responsible for the taste sensation of food.

Mouthwash is bound to collect in these grooves, which is why the stinging sensation is more common in these parts, particularly the tip.

Understanding the composition of mouthwash

When you understand the composition of mouthwash, you will find that the burning sensation is only natural. A lot of ingredients go into the manufacturing of mouthwashes according to its need. This includes:

  • Fluoride,
  • Chlorohexidine,
  • Xylitol (or any other sweetener),
  • a variety of minerals and chemicals, and

Alcohol is incorporated in the structure of most mouthwashes not only because it is a very strong disinfectant capable of killing loads of bacteria. But it is also a stabilizing agent for other active ingredients as well as the flavoring agents like menthol and thymol.

The same principle applies for alcohol hand sanitizers, but these have a much larger concentration of alcohol (90% compared to only about 25% in mouthwashes).

How important is alcohol in mouthwashes?

So you might think that alcohol is beneficial but unfortunately you would be mistaken. Studies have proved that the concentration of alcohol in mouthwashes is less than that required to kill bacteria.

In other words, the 25% concentration is just not strong enough to do its most essential job, which is to kill bacteria.

Add to that the fact that alcohol burns like crazy and it is also theoretically possible to fail a breathalyzer test when you have gargled with alcohol containing mouthwash. So you understand why people nowadays opt for non-alcohol containing mouthwashes.

Which brings us to our next question:

Why does alcohol free mouthwash burn my tongue?

Although alcohol is the main culprit in the burning sensation that you feel, it does not act alone. Various reasons and other components of the mouthwash could be responsible for such sensation, including:

Strong flavor

The burning sensation you’re feeling could be a result of something as simple as strong flavor (particularly mint). So simply change the brand for a more mild flavored one or use non flavored mouthwash to remedy the situation.

Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a commonly used ingredient when the mouthwash is intended to kill anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that die in the presence of oxygen). It is used in situations like severe periodontitis that does not respond to other forms of treatment, as well as inflammation around buried wisdom teeth known as pericoronitis.

Hydrogen peroxide is very effective, but unfortunately has a lot of side effects as staining the teeth and of course burning and stinging of the tongue, gums and mucosa in general.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

SLS is usually found in toothpastes, but sometimes it is used in mouthwashes. It is a foaming agent designed to increase the volume and penetration of the liquid. Various studies have proven that SLS is harmful for the human body.

Among the most common side effects is burning of the tongue. So our advice is to stay clear of SLS if at all possible.


Although rare, you could simply be allergic to one of the non-burning ingredients in the mouthwash, such as the sweetener Xylitol or even to Chlorohexidine. So if you don’t know what is causing your burning sensation, you should have yourself tested for allergies and just stay away from that particular component.

Inflammation of the tongue

The reason behind your burn might not be related to the mouthwash at all, it could simply be because your tongue was already inflamed and red. So basically anything that touches it will cause it to burn.

Reasons for tongue inflammation are numerous and could be as simple as eating a lot of spicy food, a fungal infection. Or simply if you accidentally bit your tongue and cut it.

Why does mouthwash make my tongue burn answered!

So as you can see, there is a great deal of answers to the popular question of “why does mouthwash burn my tongue”. The most obvious one is of course alcohol. But if you are using alcohol free mouthwash, explore the other reasons listed here and you might find the solution to your problem.

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