Does Mouthwash Work?

There are many types of mouthwashes, and everyone’s health is unique, so it’s important to understand the pros and cons of using mouthwash.

But first, an overview…

There are three basic categories of mouthwash: antiseptic mouthwashes, rinses that contain fluoride, and those that claim cosmetic benefits.

  • Antiseptic mouthwashes are designed to fight tooth decay by attacking plaque, the thin film of bacteria that forms on the surface of teeth
  • Mouthwashes that contain fluoride help fight tooth decay by making enamel tooth surfaces more resistant to plaque
  • Cosmetic mouthwashes simply help to reduce or mask bad breath and provide a refreshing feeling and taste for users

Pros and cons of using mouthwash on a daily basis 

Generally speaking, there are as many potential benefits as there are possible downsides to daily mouthwash use. Let’s start our comparison with a focus on the upside.

…while oral rinses can temporarily improve bad breath, most are not a permanent solution.

As we all know, mouthwash kills bad breath. What you may not have learned is that while oral rinses can temporarily improve bad breath, most are not a permanent solution. For that, you may need a special therapeutic rinse.

Nevertheless, using mouthwash on a regular basis can help improve your mouth’s overall cleanliness. Gargling and swishing with an oral rinse can help to remove any remaining debris after flossing or brushing. Antibacterial and fluoride mouthwashes can help protect your gums and tooth enamel against inflammation, infections, and decay.

When not to use mouthwash

There are a number of dentists who say using a daily mouthwash is not crucial to oral health. They believe that brushing and flossing without mouthwash is an adequate daily oral health routine.

In some cases, skipping mouthwash altogether is definitely recommended. For example, children under the age of six and anyone who has difficulty rinsing and spitting should not use mouthwashes or rinses.

Alcohol-based mouthwash, in particular, presents a number of concerns. The high alcohol content in many brands of mouthwash can lead to dry mouth, cause tooth sensitivity, and aggravate canker sores. In addition, since the 1970s, studies have suggested there may be a link between mouthwashes that contain alcohol and oral cancer because the alcohol dissolves the mucous layer, leaving the mouth vulnerable to cancer-causing agents.

What does your dental health professional recommend?

Dental professionals generally agree: it is more important to brush your teeth twice a day and use dental floss than it is to use a mouthwash every day.

There are certain situations when using daily mouthwash is recommended. For example, based on any special oral health needs — such as recent periodontal surgery, difficulty flossing or brushing, or to treat infection, reduce inflammation, or reduce pain — your dentist may recommend rinsing daily or more often for a period of time. Similarly, to help relieve canker sores, your dentist may recommend a simple salt and water rinse or other mouthwash as a temporary treatment.

…you should talk to your dentist or oral hygienist about whether regular rinsing is right for you.

In general, though, because there are so many variables when it comes to mouthwash use, you should talk to your dentist or oral hygienist about whether regular rinsing is right for you. Together, you can determine the type of mouthwash ingredients and rinsing frequency that will suit your personal needs.

If you do decide to rinse, always remember: washing, gargling, or rinsing are very different from drinking. While you may accidentally swallow a small amount of most mouthwashes without any trouble, no mouthwash should be deliberately ingested. Some ingredients in mouthwashes can actually be poisonous if consumed in large enough quantities.

Finally, it’s important to understand that just gargling with mouthwash or only using a dental rinse is not an acceptable substitute for brushing and flossing. After all, you wouldn’t skip the shower and just make do with a splash of perfume or a dash of cologne, would you?

For definitions of dental terminology, visit our Online Resources. Be sure to consult with your dentist or dental hygienist if you need additional guidance.

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