What Is Magic Mouthwash?

What you need to know if your doctor prescribes a topical mouthwash
woman using mouthwash in bathroom

Magic mouthwash is a prescription-only topical treatment with the power to ward off mouth sores. But is it a bona fide treatment or sleight of hand? Internal medicine doctor Janet Morgan, MD, unlocks the secrets behind the magic.

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Prescription mouthwashes conjure relief

“Magic mouthwash, sometimes called miracle mouthwash, comes in different formulas,” says Dr. Morgan. “Patients pour some medicated liquid in their mouth, then swish and spit, like they would with normal mouthwash.” 

Magic mouthwash is formulated to address mouth sores that could result from:

  • Cancer treatment: Chemotherapy or radiation therapy can affect the cells in the mouth, leading to sores or blisters.
  • Oral thrush: If you took a potent antibiotic that wiped out good bacteria, you might develop an overgrowth of yeast that looks like small white bumps on the tongue and palate.
  • Viral infection: Many viruses can cause cold or mouth sores, such as the herpes virus and hand, foot and mouth disease (common in young children). HIV can also make you more prone to mouth sores.
  • Bacterial infection: The bacteria known as streptococcus infects the throat and tonsils, causing pain.
  • Autoimmune diseases: When the body’s immune system attacks its tissues or organs, sores and changes in saliva may occur.
  • Behcet’s disease: This rare disorder causes an inflammation of blood vessels in the mouth, leading to sores.

What’s the secret sauce in magic mouthwash?

Dr. Morgan says every formula is different and depends on the person’s specific needs. Magic mouthwash may contain one or more of these ingredients:

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  • An antibiotic to kill bacteria.
  • Antifungal medicine to get yeast back in balance.
  • Lidocaine or other numbing medicine to soothe the pain from mouth sores.
  • Steroids or antihistamines to reduce inflammation.
  • An antacid to coat the mouth and offer relief.

“Sometimes, the mouthwash can be the treatment,” says Dr. Morgan. “But we use it more often to temporarily relieve pain or swelling while we wait for other treatments to resolve the underlying problem.”

Mouthwash is topical, which means it targets just the affected area rather than the entire body. Dr. Morgan says it’s a great alternative to an ingestible medicine that could interact with other drugs a person might be taking for an illness: “Whenever possible, we prefer to start with a topical option.”

How do you use a prescription mouthwash?

“Generally, a person uses the mouthwash four times a day for about a week,” says Dr. Morgan. “You put a teaspoon or two in your mouth then swish it around to coat all the surfaces before spitting it in the sink.”

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Dr. Morgan’s other tips for magic mouthwash success:

  • Don’t fret if you swallow some — since the dose is small, accidentally swallowing it once or twice won’t harm you.
  • Try to avoid eating or drinking for 30 minutes after using the mouthwash to give it time to work.
  • Solutions with lidocaine numb your mouth and throat, so avoid hot beverages that could burn you without you realizing it.
  • Refrigerating the mouthwash will make the experience more pleasant, but it won’t make a big difference if you keep it out. Just shake it well before using.
  • Mouthwash will probably last for at least 12 months unless the bottle says otherwise.
  • Sharing is not caring. Don’t share the mouthwash among family members, since the formulas differ. Even if two family members both have strep throat, talk with your provider before sharing a mouthwash.

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