Will Listerine Get Rid of a Tooth Infection?

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

Listerine cannot get rid of a tooth infection because it is unable to reach the source of it, thus rendering it ineffective. In other words, despite its fantastic antiseptic properties it is unable to affect what is producing the infection.

Listerine - Cool Mint

If you’ve an active dental infection, you’re better off seeing a dentist who will be able to treat the source of it. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that Listerine is unhelpful because it can still be used for palliative treatment.

Just don’t expect to use it for conditions it was never intended to be used for.

Listerine can’t kill tooth infections

While Listerine is an antiseptic mouthwash that has been clinically proven to kill 99.9% of germs, it won’t get rid of your tooth infection despite how much it burns.

The reasons are two-fold:

  • The mouthwash is unable to reach the source of the infection.
  • It was not intended to be a replacement for antibiotics.

Unable to reach the source

Tooth infections often originate from an area that is difficult for Listerine to reach.

  • Tooth abscess is located around the root tip that is inside your jaw bone.
  • An infected nerve is located in the center of the tooth.

Tooth abscess

An abscess coming from your tooth is usually deep in your jaw bone and it comes from the tip of the root. To be more specific, that is why it is usually called a periapical abscess.

tooth abscess

The diagram above is to show you where this infection is located. Despite the mouthwash being in liquid form, it cannot penetrate through your jaw bone to reach the source of the infection.

Infected nerve

For an infection which stems from an infected nerve, Listerine is unable to penetrate through the enamel to reach it. Your tooth is not hollow nor does it have open pores which lead directly to the pulp. The nerve is well protected by the layers of your dentin and enamel.

Tooth Anatomy - Mouthhealthy
Credit: Mouthhealthy – ADA

Essentially, if the mouthwash will not be able to reach the nerve that is infected. In other words, rinsing with it will have very little effect on it. This is also why listerine won’t kill the tooth nerve either.

Not an antibiotic replacement

Listerine has many touted benefits but killing a tooth infection isn’t one of them. The label mentions reducing germs and bacteria but does not say anything about getting rid of an infection. Listerine is not a replacement for antibiotics!

Listed benefits on the label:

  • Destroys 5x more plaque above the gumline than floss!
  • 4x healthier gums in 3 weeks vs brushing alone.
  • Clinically proven to kill 99.9% of germs that cause bad breath, plaque, swollen gums, and gingivitis.
  • Up to 3x longer lasting clean feeling vs brushing alone.

Read the above benefits carefully but what you’ll find is no mention of nerve death in there.

listerine - 6 benefits in 1
Credit: Listerine

They also advertise the mouthwash having six distinct benefits:

  • Cleans whole mouth
  • Strengthens teeth
  • Kills bad breath germs
  • Strengthens enamel
  • Freshens breath
  • Helps prevent cavities

Unfortunately, there is no mention about eliminating oral infections because it is an antiseptic mouthwash and not an antibiotic.

What will eliminate tooth infections?

If you wanted to know how to permanently treat an infected tooth, take a cue from what your dentist does. There are three methods which they use to cure the infection.

Dental procedures to eliminate tooth infections:

  • Root canal treatment by physically removing an infected nerve from the tooth.
  • Tooth extraction which removes the entire tooth from the mouth.
  • Prescribing antibiotics.

Aside from these procedures, there are no other ways that your dentist has or knows of that can be used to eliminate infections with your tooth.

Root canal

A root canal procedure will separate the nerve from the tooth by physically taking it out. The tooth stays in the jaw bone but the unhealthy nerve is removed from the tooth. That is one of the most common ways that your dentist uses to get rid of the infected pulp as well as your tooth nerve pain.

root canal steps diagram

After the procedure is completed, the tooth is considered dead because it can no longer feel cold, hot, or any sensitivity at all.


A tooth extraction will remove the entire tooth from the mouth along with whatever infection is associated with it. This is a more invasive and drastic treatment option but it guarantees elimination of the source.

tooth extraction cartoon

Afterwards you may want to consider replacing the missing tooth with either an implant or a bridge. Having one less tooth will affect your chewing efficiency and effectiveness.


When you’ve an infection, your dentist will most likely prescribe you an antibiotic. Taking it will reduce the inflammation, swelling, and get rid of the infection.

amoxicillin RX

If you’ve had an infection before, did your dentist ever tell you to just use Listerine instead of taking antibiotics? The answer would be never.

Can Listerine at least help with the toothache?

Do not expect rinsing with Listerine to alleviate your tooth pain because it is NOT a pain reliever. It is an antiseptic mouthwash and that is all that it was meant to be. Nothing on the product label even mentions alleviating pain. In fact, rinsing with it may cause momentary discomfort since it has high alcohol content.

What you should do for a toothache is to take an actual pain killer. Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen which are pain relievers would a lot more relief than using an antiseptic mouthwash.

advil dual action - inside the bottle
inside of bottle

However, that doesn’t mean that rinsing with it won’t help with your condition. Doing so will certainly reduce the amount of bacterial in your mouth. That may help delay the progression of the infection until you can make it to the dentist.

For a very mild toothache, using the mouthwash can help you feel mildly better but not drastically. Although for a very severe toothache, it’ll probably feel like it was completely ineffective.

When to see a doctor

You should try to get an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible if you’re having pain in your tooth. The home remedies which do work are only palliative in nature, which means they temporarily alleviate the symptoms but do nothing to address the source.

For permanent relief, you should treat the source and that requires the help of a dental professional. Otherwise, you’re simply kicking the can down the road.

Alternative mouthwash for tooth infections

There is a prescription mouthwash called chlorhexidine which is an actual antibacterial rinse. It is very effective in dealing with gum inflammation, swelling, and infections.

It can treat mild infections but for severe ones, you still need treatment by a dentist. Although your dentist may still prescribe you this rinse as an adjunct to their treatment.

Unfortunately as powerful as the rinses can be, you still need to see a dentist if you’ve an infected tooth.


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