Maybe your mom once told you to rinse with saltwater to ease the pain of a sore in your mouth. Or your dentist suggested you rinse with warm saltwater after you had a tooth pulled. Or maybe you've tried the combination as a mouthwash for bad breath. Is it really effective for any of these things? Can saltwater cure what ails your mouth?
A look back shows that saltwater rinses have been around since somebody first dropped the salt shaker into a glass of water. References to treating gum disease with saltwater rinses appear as early as 2700 B.C. in China. The Roman author, naturalist and naval commander, Pliny the Elder, A.D. 23-79, is said to have recommended it to the upper classes of Rome as part of their oral hygiene routine [source: Rupesh].
According to the results of a small 2010 study in India with 45 participants, saltwater is still an effective way to kill bacteria in your mouth. Saturated saline rinses -- a solution of 9 teaspoons of salt per 2/3 cup of water, which is about all the salt you can get in 2/3 of a cup -- kill bacteria by dehydrating it in the mouth when used daily [source: Rupesh]. The oral bacteria that the saturated saline attacks can be responsible for everything from gingivitis, a form of gum disease, to halitosis -- bad breath.
Dentists often recommend saltwater to ease the swelling and pain that can result from having a tooth pulled or having a mouth sore, like a canker. An Australian dentist says that a saltwater rinse is good when you've had a tooth pulled because it reduces inflammation. He doesn't advocate the rinses on a daily basis, however, saying the acidity of saltwater can damage the enamel on your teeth and cause tooth decay [source: Kerr].
As a mouthwash, the American Dental Association (ADA) says that saltwater can temporarily mask bad breath, but the ADA doesn't mention saltwater as a cure [source: Mouthrinses]. Since chronic bad breath can be caused by a number of factors, from periodontal disease to bacteria on the tongue, you should see your dentist if regular brushing and flossing don't wash it away [source: Bad Breath]
Take a look at the next page for lots more information on bad breath, oral hygiene and mouthwashes.