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What is Chlorhexidine Mouthwash?

By T. M. Robertson
Updated Jan 21, 2024
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Chlorhexidine mouthwash is often used on patients with periodontal disease. Regular use of chlorhexidine mouthwash can kill the bacteria causing gum disease and prevent new bacteria from growing. Typically, it will take up to two weeks to clear out all the bacteria in the mouth. Chlorhexidine mouthwash is available by prescription only, and not available over the counter.

When periodontal disease is left untreated, it will escalate from minor bleeding gums to more severe periodontitis, which can cause a degradation of bone structure around the teeth. When gum disease gets to this stage, mouthwashes containing alcohol can be counterproductive and actually promote the gum disease. Alcohol dries out the mouth and helps the gum disease spread. Chlorhexidine mouthwash is the recommended treatment because it will kill bacteria and limit the spread of gum disease.

A few different side effects are associated with using chlorhexidine mouthwash. Some patients are allergic to chlorhexidine and will be unable to use a mouthwash with chlorhexidine in it. Another potential problem is that chlorhexidine can cause a patient's teeth and tongue to become stained; the staining is not permanent, however, and can be removed with professional cleaning. Also, some patients experience an aftertaste that can alter taste perceptions of certain foods and drinks. Since chlorhexidine mouthwash is so strong, and it has varying side effects, it is available by prescription only.

Chlorhexidine mouthwash should be used twice daily, first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening before bed. After using the mouthwash, it's best to avoid consuming alcohol or sugars. The mouthwash should be swished around the mouth for at least 30 seconds for optimal results. In addition to using the chlorhexidine mouthwash, one should also maintain a regular brushing and flossing regimen to prevent periodontal disease from causing problems again in the future.

Besides having great antibacterial properties, chlorhexidine also fights plaque. In fact, many dentists claim it has the best anti-plaque properties of anything on the market. The mouthwash is sold under various brand names. Generic versions fall under the name chlorhexidine gluconate.

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Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Nov 10, 2014

Actually, chlorhexidine mouthwash is sold over the counter. A few brands sell mouthwash with the ingredient and they even label it as doctor recommended. But I don't think it should be used without doctor approval and supervision.

By stoneMason — On Nov 09, 2014

@SarahGen-- I've never experienced nausea. I think you should speak to your doctor about this right away. He may want you to discontinue the mouthwash.

I have mild periodontitis. It all happened after a series of not so successful dental treatments. A dentist did a bad job with a root canal. I had a bad infection afterward and things have never been the same since. My gums bleed often, I get cavities often and bad odors too. My doctor prescribed chlorhexidine mouthwash as a result. I think it's working. My gums haven't been bleeding lately and the odors are gone. It seems to be getting rid of the bacteria nicely.

By SarahGen — On Nov 08, 2014

I don't know if anyone else has experienced this, but unless I spit out chlorhexidine mouthwash very well after gargling, it gives me nausea. It has happened a few times. I am supposed to use it regularly though so I use a small amount and spit it out as best as I can. I'm going to ask my doctor if he can switch me to something else because I don't think that the nausea is normal. Aside from this though, my teeth and gums have felt better since I was prescribed chlorhexidine mouthwash.

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