When You Accidentally Drink Mouthwash, This Is What Happens

For many people, using mouthwash can be a healthy addition to a daily oral hygiene routine (via American Dental Association). Though it does not replace brushing and flossing, swishing mouthwash can freshen breath, as well as kill harmful bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay (via Healthline). But for all its benefits, it's important to keep in mind that mouthwash is not meant to be swallowed. Doing so in large quantities, either by accident or on purpose, can be poisonous.

However, there's no need to panic if you accidentally ingest a small amount. Even if you accidentally swallow a mouthful of mouthwash, you'll likely just experience an upset stomach. Most mouthwashes contain fluoride, which can cause gastrointestinal issues like nausea. The symptoms should go away after a short time. 

Most mouthwashes also contain variants of alcohol, such as ethanol, menthol, methyl salicylate, and benzoic acid. This means consuming large amounts can have an intoxicating effect and may lead to feelings of drowsiness or dizziness. In severe instances, a mouthwash overdose may occur if large quantities are ingested (via MedlinePlus). Symptoms of a mouthwash overdose include abdominal pain, diarrhea, rapid heart rate, low body temperature, low blood pressure, rapid, shallow breathing, slurred speech, nausea, and vomiting.

What to do if you swallow mouthwash

If you ingest a small amount of mouthwash, you will probably be fine. Call your doctor with any concerns. However, if you swallow larger amounts of mouthwash, do not make yourself vomit unless instructed to do so by a health care provider or poison control. 

Symptoms like rapid heart rate, trouble breathing, and convulsions may need immediate medical treatment. If you are experiencing these symptoms, call your doctor right away or head to the nearest emergency room.

The American Dental Association does not recommend mouthwash for use in children under the age of 6, as they may be more likely to swallow large amounts. Since children's bodies are much smaller and still developing, it is also much easier for them to overdose. If a child has swallowed mouthwash, immediately call the Poison Control Center. The toll-free hotline is 1-800-222-1222. Have information on the brand and amount (if known) of mouthwash your child swallowed. You may also be asked your child's age and weight, and to describe any symptoms they may be experiencing.