Mouthwash: Does it Help or Hurt Your Oral Hygiene?

Mouthwash has become a topic of much debate in recent years – does it help or hurt your oral health? What kind should you use and how should you use it? What are the benefits? Mouthwash can be a beneficial part of your oral health routine, but it’s important to understand what it does and how you should incorporate it into your daily habits.

What are the benefits of mouthwash?

Mouthwash can be an effective part of your oral health regime. Benefits include:

  • Healthier Gums: Brushing does not remove bacteria in your mouth, which can be left to build up. Too much bacteria causes irritation and inflammation in the gums and eventually leads to periodontal disease. Mouthwash helps to kill harmful bacteria and promotes healthier gums.
  • Healthier teeth: The use of antibacterial mouthwash eliminates oral bacteria and reduces tooth decay, while fluoride mouthwash can help to strengthen the enamel of your teeth and keep them resistant to decay.
  • Better Cleaning: Mouthwash can remove the remaining debris left behind after you finish brushing and flossing by flushing your mouth.
  • Fresher Breath: Mouthwash can mask odors from strongly flavored foods such as garlic and help you keep your breath fresh and minty.

When can mouthwash be bad for you?

While mouthwash is generally beneficial, there are some concerns to keep in mind:

  • Oral Cancer: Some studies have shown a link between mouthwashes that contain alcohol and negative effects in the soft tissues in the mouth that have been tied to oral cancer.
  • Masking Oral Health Problems: Mouthwash can cover up bad breath, but it doesn’t treat the cause of the unpleasant odors in your mouth. Many serious health problems create bad breath. If you have severe bad breath that doesn’t go away, you need to see a professional rather than simply covering it with minty mouthwash.
  • Mouth Irritation: Mouthwashes that contain alcohol can produce an unpleasant burning effect for some patients, and can slow the healing of canker sores and ulcers.
  • Staining: Some mouthwashes include dyes that can actually stain your teeth.
  • Destroys Good Bacteria: Your mouth contains a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria. These good bacteria help to defend your body against pathogens. Mouthwash kills both the good and bad bacteria in your mouth, and for some patients, this can offset your natural balance and reduce your immunity.

What type of mouthwash is right for you?

Different mouthwashes provide different benefits, which can be confusing. The common types of mouthwash include:

  • Fluoride: Many types of mouthwash contain sodium fluoride to strengthen teeth, prevent cavities, and fight tooth decay. You should be using a toothpaste that contains fluoride, and for many patients, this is sufficient. Those with sensitive teeth or clinical conditions may need more fluoride and may need to use a fluoride mouthwash as well.
  • Dry Mouth: Mouth dryness is actually bad for your oral health, and special mouthwashes are made to keep your mouth moist and protect against tooth decay.
  • Prescription: Patients with serious gum disease may require a prescription mouthwash containing chlorhexidine to fight gingivitis and heal inflamed gums. It is not intended to be used to prevent gum disease but can be useful temporarily to help destroy harmful bacteria in the initial stages of treatment.
  • Antiseptic: Antiseptic mouthwash usually contains alcohol and is intended to stop bacterial growth. It can be effective as a way to fight bad breath and kill bacteria in your mouth, but it can also irritate your mouth and some types can stain your teeth.
  • Cosmetic: Cosmetic mouthwash has no clinical benefit and is used just to make your breath smell better. It can mask oral health problems but does nothing to treat them.
  • Natural: Natural mouthwashes are intended to have the same benefits as traditional mouthwashes, but are made with natural ingredients instead of artificially produced chemicals.

A Note About Alcohol

Most mouthwashes contain alcohol, and you may have noticed that many of the “cons” to using mouthwashes that are made from alcohol. While alcohol can be effective as a way to kill germs and bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay, it can also have many negative effects. It can be painful and irritating for some patients, causes dryness that can actually contribute to tooth decay, and can worsen or even cause ulcers in your mouth. You may want to choose an alcohol-free mouthwash if you choose to use it as a daily part of your oral hygiene regime.

For many patients, brushing and flossing are enough to keep your mouth healthy. Mouthwash is never a substitute for these good habits, but it can be a complement to your routine. If you are concerned about whether or not you should use mouthwash, please let us know and we’ll be happy to discuss what works best for you.