Can mouthwash prevent the spread of COVID-19? UNC researchers want to find out

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – A University of North Carolina study is trying to determine whether mouthwash could help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Before the pandemic, swishing some mouthwash before heading out was probably about good hygiene and good manners. Now researchers want to know if it can protect people from more than bad breath.

Dr. Laura Jacox and Dr. Jennifer Webster-Cyriaque are researching whether mouthwash can kill the coronavirus in the mouths of people who have it and whether it can prevent them from spreading it to other people. The study is taking place at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry.

Some dentists already have patients use mouthwash before cleanings or procedures in hopes that it will help.

“We don’t know if the rinses we are using are effective at killing the virus right now,” Jacox said.

Various types of mouthwash have been tested against the virus in a lab setting.

“Quite a few laboratory studies have demonstrated that these viruses can be targeted and taken down by these mouth rinses. However, people are not Petri dishes,” Webster-Cyriaque said.

The researchers are studying commercially available rinses with various ingredients to see which ones, if any, kill the virus in the mouths of people recently diagnosed with COVID-19.

“This trial will tell us not only does the mouth rinse work, (but also) if it works, how long it works,” Cyriaque said, adding that the study also seeks to answer whether the virus remains infectious after using mouthwash, if it can continue to replicate, and if what’s coming out can infect someone else.

It won’t replace masks or social distancing. But, if it works, the researchers said it could offer an extra layer of protection in addition to existing guidelines. It could also have implications for when people remove their masks to eat.

“I think it will be a game-changer for social situations,” Jacox said. “Having this as a way to know, OK, you’ll be safe for 15 minutes or 30 minutes, or maybe an hour, that could really change how we interact with people when masks do need to come off.”

If you’re age 18-65, and you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or started experiencing symptoms within the past week, you can participate in the study. It takes place at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry and takes about an hour and a half. You will receive a Visa gift card. To enroll, call or text (984) 363-6243 or email gohealthcenter@unc.edu.

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