The Best Over-The-Counter Treatments For Gum Disease

If you have or think you have gum disease, either the reversible and curable gingivitis or more advanced periodontitis you may be wondering if there are any over-the-counter gum disease treatments available to buy in-store off the shelf without a prescription.  

The good news is that there is an array of over-the-counter (OTC) treatments available including toothpaste, antimicrobial mouthwashes, dental gels and Xylitol. Within this post, we discuss them in turn. 

Can Over the Counter Treatments Cure Gum Disease

What Are Over The Counter Treatments

OTC medicines, also known as off-the-shelf medication do NOT require a doctor’s prescription. They can be bought off-the-shelf in a pharmacy and in stores such as supermarkets or small convenience stores. There are no legal age restrictions for buying them but some retail outlets may have their own policies that restrict the sale of medicines to those under 16. 

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Gum Disease Over The Counter Treatments

Here are some OTC medicines for gum disease, however it’s worth noting that these products are only effective in combination with good oral hygiene and if you have advanced gum disease you may need more advanced treatments only available at a dental office.

Toothpaste 

There are toothpastes specially formulated to combat gum disease. These toothpastes contain ingredients known to combat plaque, gingivitis, and the bacteria that contribute to gum disease such as fluoride or triclosan (use is controversial and less common).

Whilst many off-the-shelf toothpastes contain fluoride, a naturally occurring ingredient look for those that contain Stannous fluoride which has been shown to be more effective in fighting bacteria compared to sodium fluoride due to it’s antibacterial properties.

Toothpaste is also available which contains pyrophosphates, zinc citrate, activated charcoal or natural ingredients like aloe vera. Their use in treating gum disease may be limited. 

Antimicrobial Mouthwashes

These are designed to reduce bacteria that can cause gum disease. Listerine mouthwash is a popular brand in many countries that claims to fight gingivitis. OTC antimicrobial mouthwashes contain either cetylpyridinium chloride, chlorhexidine (may require a prescription in some countries like the USA), or essential oils (e.g., eucalyptol, menthol, thymol, and methyl salicylate).

Dentists are typically cautious about suggesting mouthwash as a remedy for gum disease. This is because whilst these mouth rinses can momentarily decrease bacterial levels, the bacteria are soon back again and some might even aggravate already swollen gums.

Should you decide to incorporate mouthwashes in your gum disease regimen, it’s best to use them separately from your brushing routine. Doing so ensures that the active agents in your toothpaste linger on your teeth for an extended period.

Xylitol 

Xylitol is in a class of naturally occurring sweeteners known as sugar alcohols that are currently approved for use in foods, pharmaceuticals, oral health products, and nutraceuticals in many countries. Studies have shown that using sugar-free gum containing Xylitol can help lower the risk of cavities and a recent review suggested that it is good for periodontal health and can deter gingivitis. Xylitol is also sold in melts and mouthwashes as a product for relieving a dry mouth. They stimulate saliva flow which is an effective way of reducing plaque.

Dental Gels

Some gels contain active ingredients that help reduce gum inflammation and bacterial count. Again, chlorhexidine is a common ingredient, and over-the-counter availability might differ between the countries.

Do OTC Treatments Help Treat Gum Disease?

OTC medicines may help prevent and treat gingivitis by reducing the population of bacteria present on teeth above the gumline. Whilst these treatments reduce the bacterial load for a short period in the long term their effectiveness is the subject of debate. 

However, they have no effect on the bacteria that are present under the gum line, deep within periodontal pockets or on the tooth roots. As a result, they cannot prevent gingivitis from being triggered by bacteria that are under the gumline. They also can’t treat periodontitis. 

The best way to prevent and treat gum disease is by using dental products and techniques which disrupt the plaque every day. For example

  • Twice daily brushing with a medium to soft toothbrush (ideally electric) disrupts plaque on the teeth and along the gumline.
  • Interdental cleaning removes plaque from under the gumline.
  • Gum pocket brushes can remove plaque from periodontal pockets.  
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Out of all the OTC medicines listed above dentists recommend brushing with toothpaste as this helps prevent cavities and if you use one with stannous fluoride it can help reduce the bacterial load.  

If you choose to use the other treatments, do so in combination with brushing and interdental cleaning.

When To Seek Professional Help

OTC treatments may help prevent gingivitis when used in combination with good oral hygiene, but cannot treat advanced periodontal disease. If you think you have gum disease seek advice from a trained dental professional. 

If you don’t have access to a dentist take a look at our post on curing gum diseases at home without a dentist. We also have lots of handy advice on our homepage. 

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Written by Gareth Edwards

Co-Founder & GDG Dentist

Dr. Gareth Edwards BDS (Hons) MFDS (RCPS Glasgow) is GDG Co-Founder and Gum Disease Expert.

He is a practicing dentist based in Bournemouth, UK and has treated thousands of patients with gum-related diseases.

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