A clean taste in your mouth, fresh breath and an extra defense against the bacteria that cause plaque buildup and gum disease are among the main benefits that mouthwash delivers. But is it really a necessary part of your daily oral hygiene routine, or do you just believe it is thanks to successful marketing by the major brands? The cut-to-the-chase answer is yes — mouthwash does have a place in promoting oral health! However, its role isn’t as straightforward as you may think. There’s actually a good deal to learn about mouthwash, so keep reading!
What Mouthwash Really Does
Mouthwash — also called mouth rinse or oral rinse — reaches areas of your mouth that a toothbrush alone can’t. According to Mouth Healthy — an oral health information website presented by the American Dental Association (ADA) — it can provide the following benefits when used on a regular basis:
- Prevent or control tooth decay.
- Reduce plaque (a thin film of bacteria that forms on teeth).
- Prevent or reduce gingivitis (the early stage of periodontal disease).
- Reduce the speed that tartar (hardened plaque) forms on the teeth.
- Freshen breath.
What mouthwash can’t do is replace brushing. The friction and motion of brushing and flossing are what help to remove bacteria, plaque, food debris and acid from the surface of your teeth. Mouthwash is most effective as a reinforcement when incorporated into your morning and evening oral care routine.
What Type of Mouthwash is Right for You?
Faced with a wide array of mouthwash brands and specialized formulas on the shelves of the supermarket or drugstore, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. How do you choose, and how do you know if you’re making the right choice? Breaking it down step-by-step can help lead you to an informed decision.
First, there are two main categories of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic. Cosmetic mouthwashes temporarily control or reduce bad breath and leave your mouth with a pleasant taste, but don’t reduce your risk of cavities or gum disease. Therapeutic mouthwashes have active ingredients that kill bacteria and can help reduce plaque, gingivitis, cavities and bad breath. Those that contain fluoride help prevent or reduce tooth decay. Some therapeutic mouthwashes require a prescription, but many are available over-the-counter. When selecting an over-the-counter mouthwash, look for products that carry the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance, which means that they have been tested and shown to be safe and effective.
Beyond these basic categories are a variety of formulations to address specific issues, such as gum disease, cavity prevention, tartar prevention, tooth sensitivity and whitening. While the oral health benefits of each formulation is clearly stated on the label, reading the list of ingredients will also help you identify what the mouthwash is intended to do. Look for the following:
- Cetylpyridinium chloride: reduces bad breath.
- Chlorhexidine: helps control plaque and gingivitis.
- Essential oils: helps control plaque and gingivitis.
- Fluoride: prevents tooth decay.
- Peroxide: whitens teeth.
A note for those in alcohol recovery: Numerous brands of mouthwash contain a high percentage of alcohol, increasing the risk of a relapse if used. Most major brands have an alcohol-free option available, which provides the same benefits as standard mouthwash products.
Mouthwash Still Stops Bad Breath, Right?
For most people, eliminating bad breath is the main reason for using mouthwash. Much as using deodorant, it’s considered essential to good general hygiene. In fact, did you know that mouthwash can be used as an emergency deodorant? Needless to say, the reverse doesn’t hold true! But mouthwash isn’t effective against halitosis — the clinical term for chronic bad breath. As Mouth Healthy explains, “Unlike ‘morning breath’ or a strong smell that lingers after a tuna sandwich, halitosis remains for an extended amount of time and may be a sign of something more serious.” Our blog post — “What is Halitosis? Getting to the Bottom of Bad Breath” — covers this condition in greater detail.
Halitosis can have one of the following causes:
- Dental issues — such as cavities or deeper pockets of gum disease.
- Mouth, nose and throat infections — as well as chronic sinus inflammation.
- Dry mouth (clinical name, xerostomia).
- Smoking and other tobacco use.
- Other chronic conditions, such as gastric reflux, diabetes, liver or kidney disease.
If your bad breath persists despite regular use of mouthwash, schedule an appointment with your dentist to check for an underlying cause. Should a dental examination be inconclusive, schedule an appointment with your doctor. The sooner a medical condition is diagnosed, the sooner you’ll receive appropriate treatment.
When and How to Use Mouthwash
While this may seem straightforward, there is some debate as to when you should use mouthwash during your morning and evening brushing routine. Some sources recommend waiting 30 minutes after brushing to rinse with mouthwash so as not to wash away the fluoride in the toothpaste. Our blog post — “What to Look For In a Toothpaste” — covers fluoride toothpastes in greater detail. However, there are mouthwashes that contain fluoride, so the wait may not be necessary. Also, a half-hour wait isn’t practical for many people — either in the morning while rushing to get ready for work or a busy day of errands, or before bedtime.
Mayo Clinic recommends using mouthwash after brushing and flossing your teeth. On the other hand, the ADA states that it’s a matter of personal preference whether you rinse with mouthwash before or after brushing — while acknowledging that you should follow label instructions, which may have a specific order for use, depending upon the product’s ingredients.
Vivid Smiles of Terre Haute, IN, recommends using mouthwash at lunch or after other meals and snacks when brushing isn’t possible. A quick rinse with mouthwash will help kill bacteria and remove food particles, preventing plaque and acid buildup in your mouth. Keep a small bottle at your office desk or workstation.
Whether at home or work, pour about four teaspoons of mouthwash into a cup. Do not dilute with water. Empty the cup into your mouth, and swish for a full 30 seconds. Finish by gargling, then spit out in the sink.
Mouthwash is not recommended for children younger than six years of age. They may accidentally swallow large amounts of the mouthwash, which can cause nausea, vomiting and intoxication (due to the alcohol content in some rinses). Check the label and follow specific precautions, instructions and age recommendations.
So is Mouthwash Really Necessary?
There are dentists who say that mouthwash is not strictly necessary if you brush your teeth well twice a day and floss daily. However, most dentists highly recommend adding mouthwash to your morning and evening routine. As mouthwash does play an important role in reducing the bacteria that’s the source of most oral health issues, it should be part of your life!
To be sure you select the mouthwash formula that best addresses your oral health needs and goals, ask your dentist! As your trusted partner in oral health, your dentist will know if you can benefit from a mouthwash formulated to fight plaque, help prevent cavities or be gentle to sensitive teeth.
Our team of experienced, dedicated dental professionals will help address your oral health concerns, and determine the best solution for you based upon your individual situation. We strive to identify treatment options that fit your needs.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.
At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.
Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.