Mouthwash can be helpful to freshen your breath and cleanse areas your toothbrush can’t reach.
However, saltwater rinses are generally cheaper and can be equally effective in improving your oral health and hygiene, says Dr. Chris Kammer, DDS, a dental surgeon.
“Saltwater rinses kill many types of bacteria via osmosis, which removes the water from the bacteria,” Kammer says. “They’re also good guards against infection, especially after procedures.”
Aside from their disinfectant properties, saltwater rinses can also be used to treat other oral concerns, from canker sores to allergies and toothaches. They also have positive effects on respiratory health, making them remedies for cold and flu season.
Let’s cover their benefits, how to make them, and how to use them.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, the high alcohol content in some mouthwashes can irritate your mouth, particularly your gums. Saltwater rinses can be safer alternatives while also killing bacteria and keeping your mouth clean.
In addition to stopping bacterial growth, saltwater rinses have other benefits. These include reducing the amount of plaque in your mouth and promoting a safe recovery from dental procedures.
Saltwater rinses stop growth of bacteria in your mouth
Saltwater rinses can be helpful in stopping growth of bacteria in your mouth. Dr. Marc Lazare, DDS, says that they cut down on the acidic environment that allows bacteria to thrive.
“Saltwater rinses work by increasing the pH- balance inside the mouth, creating a much more alkaline oral environment in which the bacteria are no longer able to thrive,” Lazare says. “The harmful bacteria prefer the acidic environment, so once that is neutralized, the mouth can become less inflamed and healthier.”
A small 2017 study demonstrated that saltwater rinses are effective at decreasing the dental plaque and oral microbial count, when used alongside routine plaque control.
Help in the healing process after dental procedures
Lazare says that saltwater rinses assist in the healing process after dental procedures like tooth extractions.
“Saltwater promotes healing after dental procedures because it promotes gingival fibroblast migration, and an increased amount of extracellular matrix components, which serve to regulate wound repair activity,” he says. “Saltwater does not irritate the soft tissues in the mouth, and it will not burn or cause mouth pain.”
Respiratory health benefits
The study’s researchers suggested that it can provide potentially safe and effective intervention for people diagnosed with COVID-19 after contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Saltwater rinses have multiple benefits but should be used differently depending on what they are used for.
After tooth extraction
“Wait for a complete 24 hours after extraction before using mouthwash,” says Dr. Henry Hackney, DMD. “Swish the rinses very gently to not damage the blood clot(s). You can do them several times a day, after eating, to ensure that your mouth stays clean. They remove the bacteria from the aching area, preventing the further spread of infection.”
“Saltwater rinses can be useful to those living with periodontal disease,” says Dr. Neil Gajjar, BSc, DDS, MAGD, FADI, FPFA, FICD, FACD, Cert. IV Sedation. “To make your own rinse, simply put a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water, and then rinse your mouth with the warm saltwater.”
“For a toothache, the saltwater will aid in soothing the pain temporarily until you are able to see the dentist,” says Dr. Joi M. Fremont, DDS.
“Saltwater rinses may help with gum infections, by drawing out excess fluid in the infected tissues,” Fremont says. “But like a toothache, treatment by the dentist is necessary to remove the bacteria, plaque, or tartar that caused the infection.”
“Gargle with saltwater for 15 to 30 seconds, then spit it out, and repeat,” Hackney says. “It will soothe the sore throat and wash out bacteria.”
“Saltwater rinses can cause your canker sores to sting, but they’re still good to use,” Gajjar says. “Simply put a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water, and rinse with warm saltwater.”
“Saltwater won’t cure an allergy but can help alleviate some of its symptoms,” Hackney says. “If your throat is swollen, gargling with saltwater can bring relief.”
“Overuse of salt rinses could irritate gums leading to further bleeding, says Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer, DMD. With that being said, saltwater solutions are generally safe to swallow, but it’s still best to spit them out, he adds.
And in the case of infections, Sulitzer says that spitting out saltwater is considered better at keeping the infection at bay. However, he warns against doing multiple mouth rinses per day, and swallowing too much saltwater, as this can also dehydrate you.
To make your own saltwater rinse, Sulitzer advises following these three steps.
- Use warm water, because warmth is more relieving to a sore throat than cold water. Warm water will also help the salt dissolve into the water more effectively.
- Use any type of salt you have available, and consider additional ingredients like hydrogen peroxide or honey for additional healing and soothing properties. Most saltwater rinse recipes call for 8 ounces of warm water and 1 teaspoon of salt. However, if your mouth is tender and the saltwater rinse stings, decrease the salt to a 1/2 teaspoon for the first 1 to 2 days.
- Bring water to a boil, then remove from heat, add salt, and stir. Let the saltwater cool to a warm temperature before rinsing with it. Once you have finished your rinse, discard leftover solution to avoid contamination.
To gargle with a saltwater solution safely, Sulitzer advises the following tips:
- You can gargle before or after brushing your teeth.
- Take as much of the solution into your mouth as is comfortable.
- Gargle the saltwater around the back of your throat.
- Rinse around your mouth, teeth, and gums for 15 to 20 seconds.
- Spit out the solution.
Saltwater rinses can be helpful in improving dental health in several ways. These include reducing bacteria and plaque, and preventing infection following a dental procedure.