Does Mouthwash Really Work? The Answer May Surprise You

Mouthwash claims to help fight bad breath, gingivitis, and cavities. But are there any downsides to swishing on a daily basis? Here, you’ll find the answer.


The truth about mouthwash

Photo by Charmaine Chiu via Flickr.

For some people, their dental routine goes something like this: Brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash. And when you forget to rinse, it almost doesn’t feel right without that delightfully minty taste in your mouth. But many people wonder: do you really need to use mouthwash everyday?

Sure, when it’s used properly, it can help inhibit oral disease and tooth decay. But do you need mouthwash as a part of your daily routine to have optimal oral health?

And there’s an even more important question: Is mouthwash even good for your teeth?

Interestingly, the answer is both yes and no.

To explain we’ve laid out the pros, cons, and just about everything else you should know about the rinse you swish in your mouth everyday.

Types of Mouthwash

Believe it or not, almost half the population in the U.S. is suffering from bad breath. Though it seems like giving half the country some mouthwash would do the trick, it turns out that mouthwash usage isn’t really all that simple. In fact, there is a variety a mouthwashes available to promote various aspects of oral health. So what kinds of mouthwash are on the market? Depending on your needs, you can find a mouthwash to fit your needs. There are basically 4 kinds of mouthwashes:

Desensitizing mouthwash

To reduce sensitivity, you can use mouthwash that contains Arginine. This substance claims to seal the sensitive sites’ dentinal tubules. It’s best to consult your dentist about using desensitizing mouthwash in order to see the best results.

Fluoride Rinse

For added protection against tooth decay, this kind of mouthwash generally contains about 0.05% of Sodium Fluoride (NaF). For those who have trouble fighting off cavities, this mouthwash comes in handy.

Cosmetic mouthwash

This mouthwash doesn’t always necessarily fight the germs in your mouth, but it does leave your breath minty and fresh. However, cosmetic mouthwash only masks the bad smell instead of removing the bacteria that causes bad breath.

Whitening mouthwash

One popular way to whiten teeth at home is to use a whitening mouthwash. This kind of rinse contains a bleaching agent, commonly known as hydrogen peroxide. This helps to whiten teeth and remove stains over time.

Anti-plaque mouthwash

This mouthwash inhibits plaque accumulation, which helps prevent gingivitis (inflammation of the gums. Active ingredients present in antiseptic mouthwash are Thymol, Triclosan, Cetylpyridinium Chloride, Chlorhexidine, ect.  

Pros of using Mouthwash

  • Fights Gum disease
    Plaque naturally builds up on your teeth from bacteria and food. Tooth sockets and gums can get infected and inflamed when left untreated, resulting in gingivitis (Periodontal Disease).

  • Fresh Breath
    There isn’t a better way to start the day than with fresh, minty breath. Some mouthwashes not only add a refreshing fragrance to your mouth, they also kill the bacteria that causes bad breath.

  • Soothe mouth ulcers/canker sores
    “Mouthwash can ease a canker sore by detoxing the area — reducing the amount of bacteria that can irritate the site,” Nicholas Toscano, DDS, a diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology, co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Implant and Advanced Clinical Dentistry. Rinsing with salt water is also effective for canker sores.

  • Reduce Risk of Cavities
    Fluoride reduces demineralization by strengthening and protecting the enamel on teeth.

  • Safeguard Pregnancy
    Because hormonal changes can lead to a higher risk of gingivitis, pregnant woman are at a higher risk than normal during that time. Bacterial infections that cause serious periodontal disease can lead to a greater chance of low birth weight in infants and premature delivery, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Cons of Using Mouthwash

Of course, there are a few cons to consider when using mouthwash. Granted, most of the cons are results caused by mouthwash that has alcohol present.

  • Possible Links to Oral Cancer
    There’s an ongoing debate on whether or not there are legitimate trends between developing oral cancer using mouthwash with alcohol. Though some experts recommend using mouthwash to kill the germs that can cause gingivitis, you should really talk to your dentist before using mouthwash with alcohol.

  • Increased Tooth sensitivity
    The alcohol present in some mouthwashes will gradually dissolve the mucus layer, leaving teeth vulnerable. This can cause great sensitivity.

  • Reduce Benefits of Toothpaste
    ”Sometimes there can be an interaction between the chemicals in the toothpaste and chemicals in the mouthwash and this means they cancel out the benefits of each other,” says Dr. Phil Stemmer, from the Fresh Breath Center of London. He recommends leaving 30 minutes in between brushing and using mouthwash.

  • The Benefits Don’t Always Outweigh the Monetary Cost
    If you are brushing and flossing regularly to maintain your dental health, some dentists like Dr. Stemmer would say that you’re wasting your money. Unless you have gum disease, dental decay, or bad breath, he says that you’re better off spending your $5 elsewhere.

Situations when you Should Use Mouthwash

Not using mouthwash won’t be detrimental to your health. Still, there are some crucial reasons as to why many dentist recommend it:

If you suffer from the following:

  • Gum disease

  • Tooth decay

  • Bad breath

  • Periodontal disease from pregnancy

  • Cavities.

  • Bacterial build up from recent dental surgery

Situations where you don’t need Mouthwash:

  • It is not an adequate replacement for brushing teeth.

  • It does not actually cure dental disease, bad breath, or tooth decay. It works to promotes dental health or simply mask bad breath.

  • It is not suitable for young children under the age of 6.

Here’s the correct way to use mouthwash:

Using mouthwash regularly can be very beneficial to your oral health. Still, there are a lot of people who don’t use mouthwash correctly or effectively enough to reap the full benefits of a rinse. If you plan on adding or keeping mouthwash in your dental regimen, there are few things to remember the next time you swish:

You should gargle and swish for at least 60 seconds. Most of the chemicals found in mouthwash will not even begin to work until 1 minute has passed. Otherwise, you’re just swilling and spitting out.

Use mouthwash alongside other brushing and flossing. Remember that mouthwash gives your oral health a boost, not a cure for problems.

Stick to alcohol free mouthwash. Most of the problems associated with mouthwash come from the high alcohol content. Using alcohol free rinse will be safer for your gums and teeth while still giving them the care they need.

Ask your dentist what mouthwash is best for you. Nobody knows what your teeth need better than your dentist. He or she can recommend a specific type of mouthwash to ensure optimal oral health.

So what do you think?

Now that you know all the pros and cons about using mouthwash, you can decide for yourself if you should continue using it on a daily basis. Opinions of the matter vary from dentist to dentist, but your teeth are probably going to be fine as long as you take care of your teeth and continue to see your dental provider regularly.

Do you think you still need it in your dental routine? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!


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