Will Listerine Kill My Tooth Nerve?

Hand written by Dr David Chen, an actively practicing dentist and avid writer. #doctorswrite

Listerine is a fantastic antiseptic mouthwash but it can’t kill your tooth nerve nor has it ever claimed to do so. If you were looking for a home remedy to alleviate your toothache, you may want to explore other options.

Listerine cool mint - zero alcohol

Although that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use Listerine because it does have its benefits. Using it will help your mouth but probably not to the extent that you would’ve expected.

Listerine can’t kill the tooth nerve

Listerine is an antiseptic mouthwash that has been clinically proven to kill 99.9% of germs which cause oral diseases but that doesn’t mean it can kill your tooth’s nerve.

There are two issues which prevents it from doing so:

  • The mouthwash is unable to reach the pulp which contains the nerve.
  • It was never designed to eliminate your nerve.

Unable to reach the pulp

Listerine is unable to penetrate through the enamel which means it won’t be able to reach the pulp. That means all of the nerves are located within the middle of the tooth and is protected by the enamel and dentin layers.

Tooth Anatomy - Mouthhealthy
Credit: Mouthhealthy – ADA

Essentially, if the mouthwash cannot even get to the nerve, it will have no way of affecting it. That makes killing it physically impossible even if you wished it to do so.

Not designed to kill nerves

Listerine has many touted benefits but killing nerves isn’t one of them. The label mentions reducing germs and bacteria but does not say anything about what it does for your tooth pulp.

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.

What common sense says

Aside from that, common sense dictates that if listerine had the ability to kill tooth nerves, what would limit it to affecting just the tooth that is causing you pain? Hypothetically speaking, rinsing with it should kill ALL of your teeth’s nerves since the mouthwash would make contact with all of them.

If that was true, that would make Listerine toxic and not safe to use as a daily mouthwash. Do you really want an entire mouth full of dead teeth from rinsing with this?

Luckily for you, Listerine was not designed to kill teeth because it was meant to be safe to use. So, is that enough to persuade you of what it can and can’t do? In case you were wondering, no Listerine can’t kill a tooth infection either!

What will kill the nerve of the tooth?

If you wanted to know how to kill the nerve of your tooth, you should draw upon what your dentist does to do it. There are three methods which they use to kill the pulp.

How your dentist gets rid of the tooth nerve:

  • Root canal treatment by physically removing it from the tooth.
  • Tooth extraction which removes the entire tooth with the nerve from the mouth.
  • Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) in the pulp chamber during a root canal.

Aside from these three methods, there are no other ways that your dentist has or knows of that can be used to eliminate the pulp.

A common theme among all three of these techniques is that they are very physical. They mechanically treat the pulp by either removing it or placing chemicals directly on it. Home remedies typically don’t work because they’re unable to access the pulp chamber.

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 nerve is removed from the tooth. That is one of the most common ways that your dentist uses to “kill” the nerve.

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 and since the nerve is inside of it, it comes out with it. This is a more invasive and drastic treatment option for eliminating the pulp.

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.


For those who’ve had root canals done, you’ll quickly notice the smell of bleach during the procedure. That is because your dentist irrigates and disinfects the canals by using sodium hypochlorite (bleach).

We all know how potent it can be and how it can literally kill almost every bacteria and virus out there, including coronavirus. When used inside of the tooth, it will dissolve the nerve and other soft tissues within it. It does not dissolve the enamel, dentin, or cementum though.

rubber dam on manikin
Credit: Coltene – Hygienic

You may think it is dangerous to be using bleach in the mouth but that is why your dentist puts a rubber dam on your tooth. The dam prevents the bleach from going down your throat and coming into contact with the rest of your mouth.

CAUTION: Please do not attempt to rinse your mouth out with bleach in an attempt to kill the tooth nerve. There are major consequences because things will go wrong.

  1. The bleach can’t reach the pulp unless you drill a hole through the tooth so that makes it ineffective.
  2. If you swallow bleach you will end up in the emergency department of a hospital.

Can Listerine at least help with the toothache?

Do not expect 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. Therefore, you will not get any pain relief from rinsing with this.

Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen which are pain relievers would help you more than using an antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine.

Advil dual action - ibuprofen with acetaminophen
Advil dual action – ibuprofen with acetaminophen

However, that doesn’t mean that it won’t help with your situation. It will reduce the bacterial load and count in your mouth and that may help delay the progression of your tooth condition.

For a very mild toothache, using the mouthwash may make you feel a little bit better but probably not very noticeable. For a very severe toothache, you probably wouldn’t notice a single change from rinsing with it.

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.


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The purpose of the content at afterva is to encourage you to seek in person care with a doctor. It's not nor was it ever meant to be a substitute for medical advice. Every situation is unique and impossible to diagnose without a clinical exam.

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