According to market studies, more than 200 million people use mouthwash in the U.S. It gives a sense of fresh breath, but are there truly other benefits? Let’s take a look.
Mouthwashes are typically classified either as cosmetic, therapeutic, or a combination of the two. Cosmetic mouthwash simply help remove oral debris before or after brushing, suppress bad breath, diminish bacteria in the mouth, and give a pleasant taste. Therapeutic mouthwash have the same benefits, but also contain other ingredients, such as antiseptic and anti-plaque versions to kill the germs that cause plaque, gingivitis, and bad breath. Likewise, anti-cavity mouthwashes include fluoride to protect against tooth decay. We sometimes prescribe special mouthwashes for patients with issues such as cavities, periodontal disease, gum inflammation, and dry mouth.
While the use of fluoride toothpaste is more than adequate protection against cavities, anti-cavity mouthwashes are certainly beneficial, as they have been clinically proven to fight up to 50% more of the bacteria that causes cavities. But, as for most over-the-counter anti-plaque rinses and antiseptic mouthwashes, clinical studies have shown they don’t offer much more defense against plaque and gum disease than rinsing with water.
How to gain the best benefits from mouthwash
We recommend brushing and flossing your teeth prior to using mouthwash. This will loosen/remove any debris so the mouthwash can flush it away. It will also massage the gums, allowing the mouthwash to rinse. Swish the mouthwash for at least 30 seconds and use as much force as possible, attempting to move the liquid between teeth. Finally, thoroughly spit the liquid from your mouth.
Prior to using an anti-cavity mouthwash, teeth should be as clean as possible to allow for the full preventive benefits. You should not rinse, eat, or smoke for 30 minutes after using an anti-cavity mouthwash.
Habitual use of antiseptic mouthwash that contains high levels of alcohol can cause burning in the cheeks, teeth, and gums. Worse, many mouthwashes with more concentrated formulas can lead to mouth ulcers, tooth sensitivity, soreness, numbness, mouth erosions, and even changes in taste. As mentioned, anti-cavity mouthwashes contain fluoride, so they can cause issues if taken excessively or swallowed.
If you experience any irritating or adverse reactions to a mouthwash, discontinue use immediately and talk to your dentist.
Lastly, because children are at risk to accidentally swallow mouthwash, they should only use it in very small amounts and under close adult supervision.