Mouthwash mysteries

We know picking the best dental products for your needs can be confusing – especially with an array of mouthwash options advertising benefits like fresher breath, fewer cavities, and a radiantly whiter smile. For most people with healthy teeth and gums, using or not using a mouthwash is just a personal preference. If you’d like to add one to your dental wellness routine, how can you pick when so many varieties promise so much? What might the different ingredients do for you? Let’s take a deeper dive so that you can feel confident the next time you walk down the dental aisle. 

Cosmetic vs. Therapeutic benefits

The first step is to decide if you’re treating an oral health condition, or freshening up your smile. Many options on the market do both, but with 1.39 billion dollars spent on mouthwash every year, it’s important to understand what you’re buying. 

Cosmetic Benefits: Some mouth rinses are used for cosmetic purposes like freshening your breath for a work interview or whitening your smile for a date. These products temporarily control any odors on your breath by masking them with a pleasant aftertaste, but don’t always contain ingredients to reduce your risk of cavities or gum disease in the long run. If a burst of fresh is your primary goal, use mouthrinse either before or between brushing for a delicious “pick me up.” If a whiter brighter smile is your goal, look for hydrogen peroxide – it’s the key ingredient in providing some whitening benefits. 

Therapeutic Benefits: Many mouthwashes can also be used as part of a treatment plan to address oral conditions like chronic bad breath, gingivitis, dry mouth, cavities, or mouth sores. They’re meant to be used after brushing, either in the morning or at night and contain special active ingredients.

Common ingredients

Here’s what you might find on the label: 

  • Fluoride: You’re probably already familiar with this mineral from toothpaste and in-office treatments. Fluoride ions can help prevent cavities by promoting remineralization and creating a protective layer around enamel to shield teeth from harmful bacterial acid.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: Another household name, hydrogen peroxide, is used in mouthwash to kill bacteria as it releases oxygen. It also has a mechanical cleansing action when it froths as it comes into contact with debris in the mouth. As a bonus, it can also help whiten your teeth at the right concentration. 
  • Chlorine Dioxide: A strong oxidizing agent that neutralizes volatile sulfur gases, one of the main causes of odor on the breath, to help manage the condition for up to four hours after use. 
  • Cetylpyridinium Chloride: An ammonium compound that helps prevent plaque formation and gum disease. 
  • Zinc chloride: Neutralizes odor caused by bacteria. 
  • Essential Oils: Oils like peppermint, tea tree, sage, myrrh, clove, and eucalyptus can help freshen breath and may offer anti-bacterial properties which work against gum disease and inflammation.
  • Chlorhexidine: A prescription-only broad-spectrum antibacterial compound that effectively reduces plaque build-up and improves mild to moderate gingivitis. However, rinsing with Chlorhexidine for 4 weeks or longer can stain teeth a dingy brown, so it’s generally not recommended for long-term use.

A note on alcohol

Mouthwash can either contain alcohol or be alcohol-free. Alcohol gives you that “burning sensation” of minty freshness. It also tends to dry out the tissues in your mouth over time. If this isn’t the effect you want, check the ingredient list. There are alcohol-free rinses that can kill bacteria. If you experience dry mouth or mouth sores, you will want to avoid anything with alcohol, since it could exacerbate the problem

Mouthwash does not replace brushing or flossing

Brushing & flossing are still the most important steps in your oral wellness routine. A quick swish does not provide the same proven benefits. If you have healthy gums and are not prone to cavities, mouthwash is optional. If you have, or think you might have, gum disease, please ask us for a personalized recommendations. Stronger prescription products may be more appropriate for you. We hope this article gives you a little more insight and confidence the next time you walk down the dental aisle. For a quick go-to guide we’ve put together a quick reference for next time you’re in the store.

Mouthwash guide

*The information contained in this post should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately licensed health care provider. The information provided here is for informational purposes only. Although we attempt to provide accurate and up-to-date information, no guarantee is made to that effect. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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