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Can Over the Counter Treatments Cure Gum Disease?

Can Over the Counter Treatments Cure Gum Disease

If you have gum disease characterised by red, inflamed and swollen gums that bleed when you clean your teeth, you might be wondering if you can get an over the counter medicine to quickly treat it. 

The good news is that over the counter treatments for gum disease are available.

However, prescription-only medicines are not routinely used, because the best way to treat gum disease is by developing and maintaining good oral hygiene at home.  

The goal of this post is to explain what over the counter treatments are available for gum disease and you can make your own mind up if they’re the best way to treat gum disease

Over Counter Medicines Available for Gum Disease

There are a number of prescription-only treatments, such as antimicrobial mouth rinses containing cetylpyridinium chloride or chlorhexidine and antibiotics intended to reduce bacteria and the build-up of plaque and tartar.

However, they are only used in conjunction with good oral hygiene and gum health treatments for short periods of time. 


Chlorhexidine is a disinfectant and antiseptic (1) that’s been used externally in several areas of healthcare since the 1950s (2). In dental medicine, it works by killing the bacteria in the mouth and forming a protective antibacterial layer over the teeth and gums to prevent plaque buildup for up to 12 hours (3). It has been shown to be more effective in cases of mild gingivitis (4).

You will see it referred to as either chlorhexidine gluconate (USA) or chlorhexidine digluconate (UK) on a number of formulations including mouthwash, gel, aerosol, spray and disks. They are often combined with heavy metals such as zinc which are reported to inhibit the growth of dental plaque and impede tartar formation (5)


In the UK it’s sold under the brand names Corsodyl and Wisdom Chlorhexidine solutions. It is available to buy off the shelf without a prescription. 

However, in the USA it’s only available to buy over the counter, branded as Paroex, Peridex, and Periogard. 


A 1% chlorhexidine gel is also available on prescription in the USA or in the UK at the discretion of a pharmacist.  (6).


A small chip containing 2.5mg chlorhexidine is placed into periodontal pockets that are 5mm or bigger. These are only available via a dental professional (7) and more recent studies have found them ineffective as the natural fluid within gum pockets flushes them away.

Why You Still Need To Brush

The chlorhexidine only kills bacteria that are in the mouth at the time of use and depending on what you eat and drink during the day, the antimicrobial effect that can last up to 12 hours may actually stop working after a couple of hours.  

After the antimicrobial effect has worn off, bacteria will begin to accumulate along the gum line unless you brush it away. 

Any plaque and tartar already on the teeth will not be removed by Chlorhexidine. It can only be removed manually by regular brushing, careful interdental cleaning and professional hygiene visits. 

Routine Use Isn’t Recommended

Dentists only tend to recommend that this antimicrobial is used when all plaque and tartar have been removed.

If prescribed its use is only indicated for a very short period of time for a number of reasons. 

Chlorhexidine is known to cause

  • temporary staining of the teeth
  • temporary discoloration of the tongue
  • damage to the mouth lining
  • tartar build-up
  • impaired taste

Also, it has not been possible to exclude a possible carcinogenic effect so the use of chlorhexidine has been limited to a maximum of six months by The US Food and Drug Administration [8].  


Antibiotics including doxycycline, metronidazole, tetracycline, and minocycline are used in a very small number of people with gum disease. The antibiotics work by reducing or temporarily destroying the bacteria that cause gum disease. 

Antibiotics are available in a range of formulations including 

  • Oral Antibiotics for the treatment of acute or locally persistent periodontal infection. While antibiotics can be an effective way to treat gum disease in some cases, when taken orally they have a tendency to affect the whole body.
  • Topical antibiotics can be more effective than oral antibiotics. They come as gels, chips and strips. They are placed into periodontal pockets and the medicine is released slowly over a number of days. They can be useful when used in conjunction with specialist gum health treatments (eg root planing and scaling or deep clean). 

The Best Way To Treat Gum Disease is Good Oral Hygiene

Whilst over the counter treatments for gum disease are available they are recommended in only a small number of cases. When they are prescribed they are used for a very short period of time and only in combination with good oral hygiene and /or professional dental therapies. 

Whilst we would all love a quick fix to treat issues, the best way to treat gum disease is by manually removing the harmful bacteria that cause gum disease each day by cleaning the teeth twice a day.

If you’re looking for the best way to treat gum disease at home, the expert dentists here at Gum Disease Guide, can help you perfect your technique and cure gum disease. Find out more. 

References used in Can Over the Counter Treatments Cure Gum Disease?

  1. Varoni E, Tarce M, Lodi G, Carrassi A. Chlorhexidine (CHX) in dentistry: state of the art. Minerva Stomatol. 2012 Sep;61(9):399-419. English, Italian. PMID: 22976567. 
  2. Schmalz, Gottfried; Bindslev, Dorthe Arenholt (2008). Biocompatibility of Dental Materials. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 351. ISBN 9783540777823. Archived from the original on 2017-01-13. 
  3. About Corsodyl Treatment mouthwash
  4. James P, Worthington HV, Parnell C, Harding M, Lamont T, Cheung A, Whelton H, Riley P. Chlorhexidine mouthrinse as an adjunctive treatment for gingival health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD008676. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008676.pub2. Accessed 18 May 2022.
  5.  Nairn Wilson, Rakhee Patel, Jennifer Gallagher & Iain Chapple. (01 February 2014). How to Select the Right Mouthwash . The Official Journal Of The Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Accessed 18 May 2022.
  6. Boots the Chemist
  7. PerioChip
  8. Below, H.; Assadian, O.; Baguhl, R.; Hildebrandt, U.; Jäger, B.; Meissner, K.; Leaper, D.J.; Kramer, A. (2017). “Measurements of chlorhexidine, p-chloroaniline, and p-chloronitrobenzene in saliva after mouth wash before and after operation with 0.2% chlorhexidine digluconate in maxillofacial surgery: a randomised controlled trial“. British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. 55 (2): 150–155. doi:10.1016/j.bjoms.2016.10.007. PMID 27789177. Accessed 17 May 2022

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