Mouthwash Won’t Stop You from Catching COVID-19: Here’s the Science

A study has been making the rounds that say mouthwash is the secret to stopping the spread of COVID-19. We want to explore the idea more and give you the facts. And the facts are, few scientists stand by it other than the people who did the research.

The first thing that has to be cleared up is just bad journalism. Some headlines have made it sound like swishing mouthwash can make someone who is infected less ill. That is flat out wrong. Others have made it sound like you can use mouthwash to protect yourself from catching it — like a daily vaccine. Those headlines are misleading. The claim of the study is that mouthwash will stop people who have it from passing it on as frequently.

The second thing is that the virus used in the study wasn’t COVID-19. It was a virus close to it. But, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. You can only study COVID-19 in very secure labs, so the researchers used a similar — but nowhere near as dangerous — virus for their test.

In a lab study — without human mouths — scientists found that certain mouthwashes and nasal rinses could inactivate 99.9 percent of the virus after 30 seconds. A lab setting is not a human mouth. We much prefer the observational results scientists have seen in sick people than these results that didn’t include people. Human mouths have nooks and crannies. We don’t gargle uniformly. And, most importantly, our mouths make more virus cells all the time. How frequently would we need to gargle?

People who test positive for COVID-19 and return home to quarantine may possibly transmit the virus to those they live with,” said Dr. Craig Meyers of Penn State College of Medicine, who led the research. “Even if the use of these solutions could reduce transmission by 50 percent, it would have a major impact.”

We agree that washing yourself as much as possible should be a priority. But many in the scientific world think the suggestion that it might slow the spread by 50 percent is unfounded. A mouthwash may help. But, we don’t know what practical use there is.

It seems Dr. Meyers might also be skeptical of his own claims as he said, “I would say wear your mask, do your social distancing. Do what you’re suppose to be doing but this could just be an extra help.”

It could be of extra help. It’s a possibility. We’re thrilled people are researching. But, making these big promises without proof is why people are saying they have problems trusting scientists.

I don’t have a problem with using Listerine,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia Univ. “But it’s not an antiviral.”

Mouthwash is great for oral health. It’s excellent for teeth, gums and dental hygiene. Our team is big fans of a good gargle. And, we’re celebrating oral health month on the blog for our sister supplement BergaOne. But without more research, you should fight COVID-19 with masks, washing your hands and social distance. You should fight bad breath and bacteria with mouthwash.

Banner image: AleksNina via Wikimedia Commons

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