In late December, a new study found almost half of men with gonorrhea tested negative after rinsing with Listerine.
So does this mean anyone with the sexually transmitted infection (STI) should start gargling with the mouthwash as soon as possible?
This simple remedy sounds too good to be true—and unfortunately, it probably is. That’s because testing negative in your mouth doesn’t mean you’re cured, says Eugene Gamble, B.D.S., mouth and gum specialist at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. Even if swabs taken from your mouth come back negative, there are plenty of other places gonorrhea can lurk—meaning you can still be infected, and able to spread it to others.
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“Think of it as having a bacteria under your skin,” he explains. “Scrubbing the surface of your skin with alcohol will not help what’s going on underneath.”
Plus, 52 percent of the men tested positive even after using mouthwash, Dr. Gamble points out. That’s fewer than the 84 percent of saline users who did, but it’s still the majority.
Still, while Listerine may not completely get rid of gonorrhea, reducing it in your mouth could help prevent transmission through oral sex, he says.
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But before experts can recommend that, more research needs to be done, says study author Eric Chow, Ph.D., senior research fellow at the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre. He and his team are currently conducting a larger-scale study, which they hope will help clarify the effects of Listerine on the gonorrhea bacteria.
One potential outcome? If the researchers can identify the ingredient in Listerine that’s killing the gonorrhea bacteria, they may be able to develop a cream that can be used on other parts of the body—which may be able to guard against transmission via vaginal or anal sex, too.
For now, though, gargling is no substitute for the tried-and-true treatment for gonorrhea—a dual treatment that includes two different kinds of antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).