Can Listerine Kill a Tooth Nerve?

Toothaches and tooth nerve pain can be excruciating. When over-the-counter pain medications aren’t enough, some people turn to home remedies like Listerine for relief. But can swirling antiseptic mouthwash really kill a tooth nerve?

In this post, we’ll look at whether Listerine can stop tooth nerve pain, how it works, its effects on infections, and safer ways to manage dental nerve pain at home until you can see a dentist.

Does Listerine Help Tooth Nerve Pain?

Listerine is an antiseptic mouthwash that can temporarily relieve toothache discomfort in some cases by reducing oral bacteria. However, it cannot directly treat nerve pain or kill exposed tooth nerves.

Listerine and other antiseptic rinses contain active ingredients like essential oils and alcohol that have anesthetic (numbing) and antimicrobial effects. When swished around an inflamed tooth, they can slightly numb nerve endings and reduce oral bacteria to temporarily diminish sensitivity and pain.

But this is only a short-term effect. Listerine does not penetrate deep inside the tooth to the pulp where the nerve resides. It disinfects surfaces, but cannot eliminate tooth infections, stop nerve transmission, or “kill” tooth nerves.

Is Listerine Safe for a Tooth Infection?

While antiseptic and anti-plaque properties of Listerine can help maintain oral hygiene, it should not be used as a treatment for an established tooth infection like an abscess.

Listerine Original contains essential oils that reduce bacteria, but these oils only reach the outer surfaces of teeth and gums. They do not penetrate through enamel and dentin to reach tooth pulp infections at the root.

Using Listerine may temporarily decrease discomfort from a minor oral infection. But it cannot cure a serious tooth abscess, fractured tooth, or exposed pulp.

In some cases, excessive swishing with Listerine oral rinses can disturb or further spread dental infections. Seeking professional treatment is vital to clear up infections and prevent complications.

Why Does Mouthwash Ease Toothache Pain?

There are a few reasons why swishing certain antiseptic mouthwashes may briefly relieve toothache discomfort:

  • Reduces oral bacteria – Ingredients like thymol, eucalyptol, methyl salicylate, and menthol in Listerine kill some plaque bacteria on surfaces when swished in the mouth. This can diminish irritation and inflammation.
  • Contains alcohol – Mouthwashes with alcohol produce a slight numbing effect on nerve endings which temporarily lessens pain sensitivity.
  • Flushes debris – Swishing dislodges food particles, which provides temporary relief from pain caused by debris pressed against an exposed nerve.
  • Minimizes contamination – Rinsing helps clear some bacteria out of a cracked tooth surface or empty socket after a tooth extraction. This may briefly decrease pain.
  • Provides placebo effect – The act of swishing mouthwash and the minty flavor provides a soothing psychological distraction from tooth pain.

So while mouthwash cannot treat the cause of a toothache, it can temporarily mask nerve sensitivity and discomfort in some cases. But any pain relief is short-lived.

How to Stop Tooth Nerve Pain Right Away

Since Listerine and other antiseptic mouthwashes only provide minimal, temporary nerve pain relief, you need to use safer, more effective ways to manage toothaches at home until you can see a dentist.

Use a Cold Compress

Applying an ice pack or cold compress against the cheek near the painful tooth for 10-15 minutes can reduce inflammation and numb nerve endings to relieve pain. The cold constricts blood vessels supplying the tooth’s pulp and blocks pain signals.

Take Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium are safer and more potent at stopping tooth nerve pain than Listerine. They work by inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis to interrupt pain signal transmission.

Try Orajel or Anbesol

These ointments contain benzocaine, a topical anesthetic that numbs nerve endings in the gums and lessens tooth pain. Apply a small amount directly to the sore spot for quick relief lasting 1-2 hours.

Rinse with Warm Salt Water

Salt water helps draw out fluid from inflamed tissues and shrink swollen nerves. Dissolve 1 teaspoon salt in a cup of warm water and rinse for 1-2 minutes to alleviate pain.

Avoid Irritants

Refrain from eating or drinking foods and beverages that aggravate the affected tooth, like sweets, acids, hot/cold items. This will help calm nerve sensitivity.

See a Dentist ASAP

Serious toothaches always require professional dental treatment. Do not rely solely on Listerine or other home remedies to cure an infection or permanently stop tooth nerve pain. Seek help right away.

Listerine Ingredients and Effects on Oral Health

Listerine Original Antiseptic mouthwash contains essential oils that provide antimicrobial and anti-plaque benefits when used correctly as part of a regular oral care routine.

Key Ingredients

  • Eucalyptol 0.092%
  • Menthol 0.042%
  • Methyl salicylate 0.060%
  • Thymol 0.064%

Effects on Oral Health

  • Kills up to 52% of plaque bacteria
  • Reduces gingivitis inflammation
  • Freshens breath for up to 24 hours
  • Temporarily relieves tooth sensitivity
  • Helps prevent cavities and gum disease

But improper overuse of Listerine can have drawbacks for oral health. Swishing more than the recommended amount or using it straight from the bottle directly on teeth and gums may lead to:

  • Tooth erosion and enamel damage from high alcohol concentrations
  • Mouth irritation, sores, and allergic reactions in some people
  • Disturbed balance of good vs. bad oral bacteria
  • Stained teeth and restorations
  • Burning sensation and pain on overexposed oral tissues

When used as directed once or twice daily, Listerine can kill some plaque germs, control bad breath, and temporarily relieve nerve pain. But its effects are limited and short-lived. Listerine cannot fully stop tooth infections or permanently kill nerves within teeth requiring root canal treatment or extraction.

Professional Treatment for Tooth Infections and Nerve Pain

Over-the-counter antiseptic mouthwashes have minimal impact on established tooth infections or severe nerve pain requiring professional dental treatment, like:

  • Root canal therapy to remove infected pulp and nerves
  • Tooth extraction of non-restorable infected teeth
  • Draining dental abscesses
  • Treating gum disease
  • Fixing cracked teeth and dental injuries
  • Restoring cavities
  • Prescribing antibiotic medications

Do not attempt to self-treat a serious toothache or abscessed tooth with Listerine or other home remedies. Relying on these as substitutes for proper dental care can lead to potentially life-threatening spread of infection and other dangerous complications.

See a dentist right away if you have symptoms like:

  • Severe, constant, throbbing toothache
  • Swelling in face, jaw, or gum
  • Fever, chills, or illness feeling
  • foul odor or pus discharge from gums
  • Increased pain when chewing
  • Dark discoloration of the tooth
  • A visible chip, crack, or cavity
  • Loose tooth, dental crown, or filling

Getting prompt professional treatment is crucial to stop the infection, alleviate nerve pain, save damaged teeth, and prevent the spread of bacteria into soft tissues and the body.

FAQs: Listerine for Tooth Infections and Nerve Pain

Can Listerine cure a tooth infection?

No, Listerine cannot cure or resolve a tooth abscess, infection in the root canal, advanced periodontal disease, or other dental infections. It can only kill some oral bacteria on superficial surfaces but cannot penetrate to disinfect deeper tooth structures.

Should I brush a tooth with an exposed nerve?

Gently cleaning with a soft brush and non-abrasive fluoride toothpaste can help reduce plaque on an infected tooth without pressing on the pulp. But avoid forceful brushing directly on the sensitive spot that may disturb the nerve.

Can mouthwash remove tooth pain permanently?

No mouthwash can permanently relieve or eliminate toothache pain. Listerine and other antiseptic rinses only temporarily minimizes discomfort. The pain will keep returning until the cause of the infection or nerve inflammation is professionally treated.

How long does numbing from Listerine last?

The slight numbing effect Listerine provides by reducing oral bacteria and from its alcohol content typically lasts only 5-30 minutes. It does not permanently stop nerve pain. The discomfort will return as the rinse effects wear off.

What mouthwash is best for tooth infection?

Antimicrobial rinses with cetylpyridinium chloride or chlorhexidine can help reduce oral bacteria and plaque that contribute to dental infections. But no mouthwash should be used in place of medications and professional treatment for tooth infections.

Is it OK to use Listerine after a tooth extraction?

You can rinse gently with Listerine 24 hours after having a tooth pulled to keep the socket clean. But avoid forceful swishing or using it right after the extraction, as this can dislodge the blood clot and delay healing. Use warm saltwater instead.

Can I use Listerine with braces?

Regular use of alcohol-free Listerine is usually fine with braces as it helps cleanse areas a brush cannot easily reach. But avoid the Original amber formula, as prolonged alcohol exposure can damage orthodontic glue and bands over time.

Is it safe to use Listerine while pregnant?

Obtain your dentist’s or OBGYN’s approval before using any oral rinse while pregnant. Alcohol-free varieties are recommended as essential oils may potentially pose risks. Dilute Listerine with equal parts water as an extra precaution.

Can Listerine cause nerve damage?

When used incorrectly in excessive amounts, highly concentrated Listerine held in direct contact with teeth and gums for too long can potentially lead to burns, tissue irritation, increased tooth sensitivity, altered taste, and other nerve damage over time in some cases.

The Bottom Line

Listerine can temporarily mask toothache pain thanks to its antimicrobial essential oils and alcohol content. But it does NOT penetrate deep inside the tooth to reach and resolve nerve infections.

While Listerine can support oral hygiene as part of a regular routine, it should NEVER be used as a treatment for serious tooth infections, abscesses, cracked teeth, or severe nerve pain which require immediate professional dental care.

Swishing twice daily with Listerine can benefit your oral health between dental visits. But it is NOT a substitute for professional treatment of damaged nerves. See a dentist right away if you have throbbing tooth pain, swelling, fever, or other worrisome symptoms indicating an infection.

Do not rely on Listerine or any other home remedy to “kill” or permanently stop tooth nerve pain. Proper medications and dental procedures are the only way to effectively treat problems like abscesses, fix cracks, perform root canals, extract non-viable teeth, and resolve advanced gum disease.

Use Listerine as intended to freshen breath and kill some plaque bacteria. But also see a dentist regularly so problems like tooth decay and gum infections can be prevented and treated early before they progress to seriously damage tooth nerves and structures.

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