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Best Mouthwash For Sensitive Teeth

Mouthwash being poured into cup

When it comes to mouthwashes for sensitive teeth, there aren’t many options around.

But in this article I include my advice as a dentist to help you figure out if you could benefit from a mouthwash, based on the ingredients.

I also give some product recommendations.

If you don’t specifically need a sensitive mouthwash, you may find our more general post on the best mouthwashes helpful.

Key recommendations when using a mouthwash for sensitive teeth

  1. Get fluoride in there if you can – more fluoride is always a good thing for protection against cavities.
  2. Use mouthwash for sensitive teeth and gums in addition to your normal cleaning routine – you still need to brush your teeth!
  3. Use at a separate time of day to brushing, otherwise you are diluting the effect of your toothpaste.
  4. Use in addition to a sensitivity toothpaste for maximum protection against dentin sensitivity.

Therapeutic Sensitivity Mouthwashes

These are mouthwashes that contain active ingredients to help treat and manage tooth sensitivity. Ingredients you may find in a therapeutic mouthwash include:

  • Arginine
  • Dipotassium Oxalate Monohydrate
  • Potassium Nitrate
  • Stannous Fluoride.

These ingredients work either by blocking the exposed dentin tubules or by dulling the nerves which carry the pain message. 

Gentle Mouthwashes

Given that there are few sensitivity options available, you may be interested in using a mouthwash, but wanting to know what you can use which won’t cause further irritation and sensitivity. My advice would be:

  • Avoid alcohol containing mouthwashes. Alcohol can cause a burning sensation.
  • Avoid SLS, which again has been linked to irritation in the mouth.
  • Choose a non-mint or unflavoured mouthwash, as mint can sometimes enhance the sensitivity feeling.

Other mouthwashes

Other mouthwashes may help to reverse or prevent sensitivity by targeting the cause of your sensitivity. For example, if tooth wear caused by acid erosion is causing your sensitivity, pick something that will help remineralise and strengthen the enamel. Ingredients for remineralisation include fluoride (any type) and calcium phosphates.

Whilst not specifically treating sensitivity, these can prevent further problems developing.

The Best Mouthwash For Sensitive Teeth

Below are some good options to consider if you’re looking for a sensitivity mouthwash.

I also include my own comments on each product, what to use it for, and what the active ingredient is.

Sensodyne Cool Mint Sensitive Care Mouthwash

Active Ingredient: Potassium Nitrate

Use it for:  treating sensitivity by stopping the nerves sending messages

Sensodyne Cool Mint Sensitive Care Mouthwash

Pros

  • Mouthwash reaches area toothbrush can’t
  • Widely available in stores and online
  • Active ingredient prevents pain messages
  • Alcohol free
  • Mild Flavour
  • Contains fluoride which also helps protect against tooth decay
  • SLS free

Cons

  • No information on animal testing

Price Comparison

  • 984ml bottle
  • Approx. $10 / bottle

I recommend Sensodyne Cool Mint Sensitive Care Mouthwash as the best therapeutic mouthwash with potassium nitrate.

Potassium nitrate doesn’t resolve the sensitivity in the way that other ingredients do. Rather than blocking the exposed tubules, the cause of the sensitivity, this stops the pain messages being sent to the brain by dulling the nerves. This may be useful in addition to other ingredients that block the tubules (which you could use in toothpaste form).

Whilst quite a few mouthwashes contain potassium nitrate, this particular one has a bigger bottle than the Sensodyne Pronamel Daily Care, but with the same active ingredients and also a better price!

Listerine Total Care for Sensitive Teeth

Active Ingredient: Potassium nitrate

Use it for: treating sensitivity by stopping the nerves sending messages

Listerine Total Care for Sensitive Teeth

Pros

  • Mouthwash reaches area toothbrush can’t
  • Widely available in stores and online
  • Active ingredient actually blocks tubules and treats sensitivity
  • Contains fluoride which also helps protect against tooth decay
  • SLS free
  • Has Canadian Dental Association Seal of Approval

Cons

  • Contains alcohol
  • No information on animal testing

Price Comparison

  • 500ml bottle
  • Approx. $8 – $10 / bottle

I’ve picked Listerine Total Care for Sensitive Teeth as one of the best mouthwashes for sensitive teeth, as it contains potassium nitrate to help calm the nerves which transfer the messages of pain, which is responsible for sensitivity.

The added fluoride also has a benefit as it helps to remineralise the tooth tissue too. As with all mouthwashes, make sure you use it at a separate time of day to brushing so that you don’t rinse off the fluoride in your toothpaste (and lose the anti-cavity effect of it!). You will need to rinse with about 10ml for 60 seconds twice daily to get full effect. And it could take some time (up to a couple of weeks) to notice the full effect too.

UltraDEX Daily Oral Rinse, Original

Active Ingredient: fluoride

Use it for: a gentle mouthwash if you have sensitive teeth, avoiding further irritation

UltraDEX daily oral rinse

Pros

  • Mouthwash reaches area toothbrush can’t
  • Widely available in stores and online
  • Active ingredient, fluoride helps remineralise the tooth surface
  • Alcohol free
  • Unflavoured, although you can add mint
  • Vegan
  • Sodium Bicarbonate helps lift stains
  • SLS free

Cons

  • Relatively expensive

Where to buy

Price Comparison

  • 250ml bottle
  • Approx $20 / bottle

This mouthwash has made it to this list as the best unflavoured mouthwash for sensitive teeth.

This fluoride containing mouthwash is unflavoured, but comes with a separate flavouring sachet so that you can add however much flavour you want. This is useful if you find normal mouthwashes too strong and get a burning sensation with mint.

Although I have recommended this as a mouthwash, there is no real benefit to using specifically for sensitive teeth. Although the fluoride will help with enamel remineralisation and provide an element of protection against decay.

Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief mouthwash

Active Ingredient: Arginine

Use it for: treating sensitivity by blocking the tubules

Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief mouthwash

Pros

  • Mouthwash reaches area toothbrush can’t
  • Active ingredient actually blocks tubules and treats sensitivity
  • Alcohol Free
  • Soft mint flavour
  • Contains fluoride which also helps protect against tooth decay

Cons

  • No information on animal testing
  • Can be hard to find

Where to buy

Price Comparison

  • 1L bottle
  • Approx. $9 / bottle

I have recommend Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief Mouthwash as the best therapeutic mouthwash with Arginine, mostly because it seems to be the only one available!

Studies have shown arginine containing mouthwashes to be the most effective compared to potassium only and fluoride only mouthwashes, so this should be your go to if all else has failed. 

The only problem seems to be availability, with many places currently sold out, you may need to try a pharmacy to get hold of this stuff!

What causes tooth sensitivity and how can I avoid it?

Tooth sensitivity is a short, sharp pain from the tooth in response to a change in temperature, sweet/spicy foods, or even sometimes touch.

Ultimately, tooth sensitivity is caused by exposed dentin tubules (as the nerves that sense pain lie within these parts of the tooth). A change in hot/cold/pH etc causes movement of the nerve within the tubule which causes a pain signal to be sent to your brain.

The underlying cause of sensitivity is whatever caused the dentin tubules to become exposed, and includes:

  • Gum recession due to gingivitis and periodontitis (gum disease).
  • Over-brushing causing gum recession and which also wears away the enamel.
  • Grinding habits which wear away the enamel layer.
  • Dental treatment including tooth whitening, professional cleaning and fillings.

In real life, most people experience some sort of sensitivity at some point, but if this is new and it carries on for over a week, or suddenly gets a lot worse, make sure you get it checked by a dental professional.

Just be aware that because sensitivity can be caused by several different reasons, only treating tooth sensitivity (without knowing what is causing it) can lead to further damage down the line (e.g. untreated decay which could develop into a painful abscess).

Key tips for avoiding sensitivity

  1. Gum health is key. Avoid gum disease to avoid gum recession. Brush twice daily and use some form of interdental cleaning every day.
  2. Avoid over brushing by using an electric toothbrush with a pressure sensor.
  3. Minimise tooth wear by avoiding acidic foods and drinks.
  4. Use a specialised sensitivity toothpaste to manage any symptoms you may have.

When to start using a specialist sensitive mouthwash

Sensitive mouthwashes should be used in addition to good oral hygiene habits. 

If sensitivity is affecting your everyday life, and leading to you avoiding things you enjoy, you should start changing your oral care regime to include products that will help with sensitivity.

Sensitive mouthwashes can be used in addition to a good sensitive toothpaste, one that works for you. There are more options for toothpaste so it may be worth starting by finding a sensitive toothpaste that works for you. This can be a bit of trial and error, but you can use our recommendations to get you started.

Types of sensitive mouthwashes available include:

  • Therapeutic mouthwashes – those which include a specific anti-sensitivity ingredient.
  • Gentle mouthwashes – to avoid further irritation of teeth or gums (but which don’t actually treat sensitivity themselves).

How to use a mouthwash for sensitive teeth

Generally, you should use mouthwash at a different time to brushing. This way you will get the greatest effect of the fluoride and the therapeutic ingredient.

If you use mouthwash too soon after brushing, you simply wash off the toothpaste you have used. As toothpaste normally contains a higher dose of fluoride, it is better to keep using your toothpaste for protection of cavities.

Use a mouthwash at least half an hour before or after brushing. Key times might be after your lunch (when you may not otherwise brush) or directly before bed (if this is later than brushing your teeth).

You may also get more benefit from your sensitive mouthwash if you use it before having acidic food or drink.

  1. Rinse the recommended dose of mouthwash (usually about 20ml is all that is needed) around your mouth for about a minute. 
  2. Spit into the sink. 
  3. Do not rinse with water afterwards.

About ingredients used in sensitive mouthwashes

Arginine 

Arginine is used to treat sensitivity by blocking the exposed dentin tubules (where the nerves are exposed). Despite evidence showing that arginine is effective in mouthwash form, there are yet to be any mouthwashes containing the ingredient on the US market (although you may be able to import from abroad).

Calcium and potassium ions

Help with the remineralisation of the tooth surface. Demineralised enamel is more prone to tooth wear, and can increase the number of exposed dentine tubules, making symptoms of sensiitvity worse.

Dipotassium Oxalate Monohydrate

Potassium oxalates are believed to block the tubules, preventing sensitivity. Patients report improvement in symptoms, however there is conflicting evidence about how good the ingredient actually is.

Potassium Citrate

Desensitises the nerves which are irritated on exposure to hot, cold, eating, or brushing. Works in a similar way to potassium nitrate.

Potassium Nitrate

Potassium nitrate prevents sensitivity by preventing the nerve from passing on the pain message from the tooth to the brain. It is a nerve calming agent.

Evidence has shown it to be equally effective in mouthwashes as in toothpastes, although at present there are few mouthwashes available with this ingredient.

FAQ

Is mouthwash bad for sensitive teeth?

No, mouthwash is not bad for sensitive teeth. However if you use a mouthwash too soon after using a toothpaste you will rinse the toothpaste off before it takes effect. This may mean you don’t feel the benefit of a sensitive toothpaste if using a mouthwash straight after.

Does mouthwash for sensitive teeth work?

Yes, toothpastes formulated for sensitive teeth do work if they contain one of the active ingredients. Unfortunately there are few mouthwashes on the US market that contain ingredients that are therapeutic for sensitivity.

Are there any other products that could help with sensitivity?

You could consider a sensitive toothpaste (many of which contain active ingredients to fight sensitivity) or a prescription product from your dentist to help fight sensitivity.

About Dr. Gemma Wheeler

Gemma qualified from Cardiff University School of Dentistry in 2015. She went on to complete her Foundation Training and a further two years in the Armed Forces, primarily based around Wiltshire. She now works in a private practice in Plymouth.

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