What is the Purpose of a Salt Water Rinse After Oral Surgery?

woman considering dental work

After oral surgery, you will usually be asked to rinse with salt water starting 24 hours after your surgery.

Why is this so important? Because after surgery, you may be vulnerable to infection. Keeping your mouth clean is paramount during healing to avoid infection.

Here at Wilmington Oral Surgery, we usually recommend rinsing gently with warm, not hot, salt water (mix a half teaspoon of salt in a cup of water) several times a day—after every meal and snack. The water will remove bits of food from the surgical site.

How it works

Salt has been used to prevent infection and reduce inflammation since the earliest recorded time. Egyptian papyruses dating from 1,600 BCE have shown to include recipes for using salt as medicine.

How does it work? Salt temporarily increases the mouth pH balance, turning the environment alkaline. Bacteria have a hard time surviving in alkaline environments.

A saltwater rinse of a half teaspoon salt to one cup water helps your mouth recover from surgery, having the same salts and minerals as the human body. A saltwater rinse will not irritate your mucous membranes like mouthwashes can, yet serves the same cleansing purpose.

If you don’t have salt at hand, when you are at work or school, for example, rinsing with plain tap water can have some benefit. Gently swishes tap water in your mouth will provide mechanical irrigation of the surgery site, removing plaque and food bits.

Other benefits

Beyond cleaning the mouth, saltwater rinses reduce swelling, increase blood flow to aid healing, and help freshen your breath.

There are other reasons to rinse with salt water besides when you have had oral surgery: the rinse can make sores in your mouth feel better, help heal a sore throat, and even provide satisfactory hygiene if you don’t have your toothbrush and toothpaste with you while away from home.