When practicing proper oral hygiene, there’s no substitute for regular brushing, flossing and dental visits.1 However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t more you can do to keep your mouth clean and help prevent cavities. Mouthwash can be a helpful addition to your daily oral hygiene routine. Certain types of mouthwash can even help treat or prevent certain oral diseases.
What does mouthwash do?
Like dental floss and water flossers, mouthwash can get in between teeth to reach areas your toothbrush can’t. Mouthwash can help:2
- Eliminate plaque
- Prevent gum disease
- Prevent tooth decay
- Strengthen enamel
- Reduce the speed of tartar buildup
- Freshen breath
Though mouthwash can be useful, mouthwash is not intended to take the place of proper brushing or flossing. While there are quite a few benefits to using mouthwash, it’s important to brush twice a day and clean between teeth once a day even while using mouthwash regularly.3
Types of mouthwash
The American Dental Association (ADA) identifies two distinct types of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic.4
- Cosmetic mouthwash leaves behind a pleasant taste and may temporarily control bad breath, but it has no chemical or biological application. Cosmetic mouthwash does not reduce risk of cavities or gum disease.
- Therapeutic mouthwash has active ingredients that can help treat or reduce conditions such as bad breath, gum disease, plaque and tooth decay. Some therapeutic mouthwashes are available over the counter, while others are only available by prescription.
Do you need to use mouthwash?
Most people do not need to use mouthwash. It’s possible to practice proper oral hygiene without using it. The ADA recommends brushing teeth twice daily, cleaning between teeth daily, eating a healthy diet that limits sugary beverages and snacks, and seeing a dentist regularly—as long as you’re doing those things, you’re probably doing enough to take care of your smile. However, the ADA does recommend that those with an increased risk of gum disease or cavities consider using a mouth rinse or mouthwash.5
Your dentist may prescribe mouthwash to treat a variety of conditions, such as dry socket, bad breath, gingivitis, tooth decay and tooth pain.6 Consult your dentist at your next checkup to find out if you should consider using mouthwash. Regular checkups are usually covered by dental insurance.
Risks of using mouthwash
Some studies have identified risks associated with using mouthwash, including that mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine may raise blood pressure by killing beneficial bacteria in the mouth7 and using antibacterial mouthwash significantly reduced the blood pressure-lowering benefit of exercise.8 Still, certain types of mouthwash have been found to be safe and effective. If you choose to use mouthwash, look for products with the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
Keep in mind that mouthwash is not recommended for children under the age of six, as they may accidentally swallow it. Swallowing mouthwash or failing to use it as directed can cause nausea, vomiting or intoxication due to the high alcohol content of some mouth rinses.9 Be sure to always read labels carefully and follow printed instructions.
Is using mouthwash worth it?
Mouthwash can help promote good oral hygiene, especially if you have an increased risk of gum disease or cavities.10 It can also help treat or control certain conditions. Your dentist can help you determine whether using mouthwash might benefit you and which type is safest for you to use.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. It is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.