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Could Antiseptic Mouthwash-Gargle Slow COVID-19 Spread?

Daniel Marcus';

By Daniel Marcus

Posted on September 18th, 2020 in Covid-19

mouthwashAs some scientists work on potential COVID-19 vaccines, others are looking to existing products such as antiseptic mouthwashes and oral rinses to reduce the quantities of viral particles in the mouth and throat, and possibly reduce the viral load in the short term. The novel Coronavirus can be inactivated using commercially available mouthwashes, according to a study which says gargling with these products may help reduce transmission of the new Coronavirus, though more research is needed to determine just how big of a role they can play in curbing the virus transmission.

Lab-Based Findings of Gargling with Antiseptic Mouthwash and Coronavirus

In a recent study conducted at Penn State College of Medicine, researchers found that certain oral antiseptics and mouthwashes, when used by COVID-19 positive patients, may have the ability to inactivate the virus and lower the risk of viral transmission.

In the experiment, the researchers created cells grown from human tissue and infected them with HCoV-229E, which is in the same virus family as SARS-CoV-s. To measure how much of the virus was inactivated, they subjected the virus to several common, over-the-counter mouthwashes including Crest Pro-Health, Listerine Ultra, Listerine Antiseptic, and similar store-brand antiseptics for 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 2 minutes.

The most impactful product was Listerine Antiseptic, which managed to reduce viral infectivity by greater than 99.99% with a 2-minute contact time.

Is It Really So Simple to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 as Gargling?

Some experts make clear that even if gargling with antiseptic mouthwash could wipe out the COVID-19 inside someone’s mouth, a person’s infected cells would continue producing more viruses, thus, any decrease in colonies of COVID-19 residing in the mouth and oro-nasopharynx would be very short-lived if it occurs at all.

Using an antiseptic mouthwash cannot inhibit the production of viruses in the cells, but could reduce the viral load in the short term where the greatest potential for infection comes from, namely in the oral cavity and throat, and this could be useful in certain situations, for example, prior to dental treatments.

Johnson & Johnson, owner of Listerine, said that Listerine Antiseptic is not intended to prevent or treat COVID-19 and should be used only as directed on the product label.

Mouthwash Doesn’t Replace Masks and Physical Distancing

There are some arguments against recommending or suggesting persons protect themselves with pharyngeal antisepsis. Some experts disagree and point out that the coronavirus can quickly multiply in the throat even after using mouthwash. Other potential downsides include:

  • Frequent use could notably reduce microbial diversity in the mouth and potentially damage teeth;
  • Alcohol-based mouth rinses can also irritate the tissues in the mouth and lead to mouth sores;
  • Povidone-iodine gargle and mouthwash can interfere with thyroid function;
  • Misusing the rinses by swallowing them can be extremely toxic and may lead to serious consequences;
  • Despite being an attractive approach, adoption should await more research;
  • There are risks from this recommendation because it could detract attention and personal effort away from interventions with greater evidence, including regular hand washing, mask use, and physical distancing;
  • It may promote a false sense of security in individuals thinking that if they are gargling regularly with an antiseptic mouthwash, they are protected and don't need to as diligently apply the above-mentioned protective measures.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best protection against COVID-19 is a mix of frequent handwashing, avoiding close contact with others, cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, and wearing a mask in public settings. If you're interested in adding rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash to your oral hygiene routine, consult a doctor or dentist for advice on what you should use and how you should use it.