Refresh, cleanse, and heal with this natural, homemade mouthwash that is alcohol free, inexpensive, and super easy to make yourself!
For my last natural DIY post, I reminded you that before blogging, I survived dental school. I also shared how to make a homemade toothpaste and gave you some tips on how and why to brush for good dental hygiene. Through those tips, I promised to share with you my favorite recipe for making a homemade mouthwash.
The purpose of mouthwash
Most people use mouthwash either in the hopes of eliminating bad breath or to help their mouths feel fresh and clean. That said, there are numerous mouthwashes available said to serve a variety of different purposes. Some claim to help fight cavities, others to help remove plaque, tartar, or gingivitis. Still others claim to help whiten teeth.
Is Mouthwash effective?
Whether or not a mouthwash is effective depends on what each mouthwash is meant to do. Some mouthwashes are considered cosmetic, and others are considered therapeutic. The cosmetic mouthwashes are meant to give a temporary feeling of freshness and may temporarily help with bad breath, but other than that don't really do much. For some people, that may be enough.
Therapeutic mouthwashes have active ingredients meant to serve some sort of long term purpose. They may have fluoride added to them in the hopes of preventing cavities, peroxide in the hopes of whitening teeth, or other ingredients like chlorhexidine as an antimicrobial agent meant to help fight gingivitis and periodontitis.
Many of these therapeutic mouthwashes can help in certain situations, but may have other side effects that may not make them the best choice for every day use. For example, we used to occasionally prescribe chlorhexidine rinses to patients with certain infections or other conditions, but it wasn't something we wanted everybody using all of the time as it can stain your teeth, and may be a bit too much for everyday use for most people.
Some studies do show that using a mouthwash can help reduce plaque and gingivitis. (I've linked to one below that shows that mouthwashes with essential oils are especially helpful.)
Avoid using a mouthwash with alcohol in it
In dental school, one of our favorite instructors told us that mouthwash wasn't necessary for most healthy people who effectively brush and floss their teeth. He pointed out that most of the popular mouthwashes have alcohol in them, and the use of alcohol in a mouthwash could be drying to the mucosa. Alcohol based mouthwashes feel cleansing, but they could potentially lead to a dry mouth with continued use. Having a dry mouth makes you a lot more susceptible to getting cavities, so you may be doing yourself more harm than good if preventing cavities is your main reason for swishing. Sure, you could choose a fluoride based rinse instead, but that takes us back to the debate about if you should be using fluoride or not. (I touched on that in my homemade toothpaste post.)
Apart from that, there has been a debate about if mouthwash with alcohol may give you an increased chance at developing oral cancer. The studies don't really show a connection, and the ADA has taken the stance that mouthwashes with alcohol in them are safe. That's not really my reason for avoiding them. Still, I'll leave you to be the judge of whether you want to use an alcohol based mouthwash or not.
Why use a homemade natural mouthwash?
By making your own homemade mouthwash, you control the ingredients.
You can choose whether or not you want to add alcohol to your recipe. You can choose whether or not to add essential oils.
But, why use one at all?
There are many times when you may want to make yourself a homemade mouthwash:
- Perhaps you want to freshen your breath before a date.
- You may have dental pain, and want a way to sooth your mouth until your dentist is able to see you.
- Maybe you have a sore throat and want to gargle with something that will help lessen the pain.
- Or maybe you're just looking for a way to clean out your mouth and raise the pH of your mouth after eating when you can't get a brushing in?
All of these reasons are valid reasons for wanting to use a mouthwash, so why not make it yourself…
What ingredients should you use in a homemade mouthwash?
Salt is a healing ingredient that has been used in medicine by many cultures since ancient times. It is, perhaps, the most important ingredient to use in a homemade mouthwash because of its healing properties. Salt water rinses are often prescribed after dental surgeries because they can help sooth and promote healing by reducing inflammation and contracting the tissues.
I've read in several places that salt water rinses may also help alkalize the mouth by helping to destroy the acid forming bacteria that cause cavities and gingivitis. Using a natural salt, like Himalayan salt, could be helpful in providing essential trace minerals that may help in the remineralization of your teeth.
The addition of salt also helps preserve your homemade mouthwash.
Baking soda has a pH of around 9. Adding it to your homemade mouthwash may help alkalize the mouth, making it a less hospitable place for bacteria that cause cavities and gingivitis. It can also help balance your oral pH after having ingested acidic foods that can be damaging to your teeth.
Using salt and baking soda together in a rinse isn't new. The National Cancer Institute recommends using a rinse of water, baking soda and salt as a way to help reduce mouth pain and some of the oral side effects of chemotherapy. It's a natural, gentle, healing combination that is great for a variety of issues.
Xylitol is a sweetener that won't damage your teeth and may actually help keep cavities away. I'm primarily adding it to help make the mouthwash more appealing. It's a totally optional ingredient, though, so if you are opposed to using it, don't add it! (And keep it away from dogs!)
Adding mineral drops, like Concentrace Trace Mineral Drops, is also optional. I add them to help surround the teeth with beneficial minerals that may help in remineralizing any areas that may have been demineralized by acid forming bacteria in dental plaque. These same mineral drops would also make a great addition to your homemade toothpaste and drinking water.
Watch how simple it is to make your own natural mouthwash
Best essential oils for a homemade mouthwash
Many commercial mouthwashes use variants of several essential oils to give their product good flavor and to leave your mouth feeling fresh. Listerine uses a combination of thymol (found in thyme oil), menthol (found in peppermint oil), eucalyptol (found in salvia and eucalyptus), and methyl salicylate (wintergreen). The idea is that the oils will help disrupt the bacterial cell wall of the bacteria in your plaque, and thereby helping avoid cavities, gingivitis, and periodontal disease.
You can use a number of different essential oils, depending upon your flavor preference, or you can use a combination of different oils. Some great choices of essential oils to use are clove, tea tree, spearmint, peppermint, and wintergreen.
Safety note for essential oils: Certain oils such as peppermint and wintergreen should be avoided with young children. Wintergreen can lead to the development of Reye's syndrome when used by children under the age of 10. Peppermint is generally safe for children over the age of 6, but can rarely lead to respiratory issues in younger children, so it's best to err on the side of caution and avoid using it with younger children. Clove oil is generally safe to use with children over age 2. That said, if you feel that your child is likely to ingest the mouthwash rather than spit it out, you may be best to leave the oils out all together.
If you plan on having children use this mouthwash, you can add peppermint extract instead to flavor your mouthwash. (It won't be completely alcohol free, then, but the amount of alcohol added is almost negligible.)
Clove oil: Clove oil is a great oil to use in homemade mouthwash because of it's anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Gargling with a mouthwash made with clove oil may help sooth a sore throat, and it may also help relieve other pain from toothaches or ulcers in the mouth. The eugenol component of the oil is no stranger to dentistry, with Zinc oxide-eugenol cement being commonly used as a temporary filling material.
Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil isn't the most pleasant tasting of the oils, but some people choose it for it's antimicrobial properties. It may help in cases of oral candidiasis and may also help with gingivitis. As this oil isn't generally taken orally, you want to be especially sure to spit this one out.
Wintergreen oil: Wintergreen oil tastes great and can help with the inflammation and pain from infections. It's thought to help naturally reduce bad breath. As it can be toxic in high concentrations, such as those found in essential oils, this is another one you want to make sure to spit out.
Peppermint oil: My favorite oil for a homemade natural mouthwash is peppermint. It's easy to find, great for a number of other uses, and it gives your mouth a fresh, clean feeling when using it in a mouthwash. There's no need to use alcohol in a mouthwash when you can get that same fresh kick from a few drops of peppermint oil.
Do essential oils in mouthwash and toothpaste disrupt the healthy bacterial balance in your mouth?
I've heard from several people who believe that essential oils in homemade mouthwashes and toothpaste should be avoided because of their antimicrobial properties. The logic is that just as an antibiotic kills off both good and bad bacteria in your gut, that essential oils may do the same and throw off the delicate balance of the bacteria in your mouth.
While essential oils do have antimicrobial properties, I personally don't think that they are such that they would be potent enough to disrupt the balance in your mouth. Anybody who has made homemade natural products such as making your own lotion or a homemade hair conditioner knows that essential oils can NOT be used as preservatives. Despite including them in your formulations, if you do not add some other sort of preservative, your creations will grow both bacteria and mold, and normally pretty quickly at that.
Are essential oils effective at combating gingivitis and plaque?
There is a study that helps support the idea of using a mouthwash with essential oils in it to help reduce plaque and gingivitis. The patients with gingivitis in the study that used an essential oil containing mouthwash along with their brushing and flossing had significantly lower amounts of gingivitis and plaque than those that either didn't use a mouth rinse or those that used one without essential oils.
If you are concerned, you can leave the essential oils out, or just save them for moments when you are dealing with dental pain, gingivitis, or inflammation of any other type.
How to make a natural, homemade mouthwash
Homemade Natural Mouthwash
Add all of the ingredients to a storage bottle and mix thoroughly.
Shake before each use to help disperse the oils and any baking soda or traces of salt that may have settled to the bottom of the bottle.