November 9, 2018
One common oral health question asked by people of all ages is whether mouthwash is a healthy option for oral hygiene. Although this should be a straightforward question to answer, it’s been somewhat muddled up with confusion and people aren’t quite sure what to believe. In this blog, we’re going to attempt to dispel some of the myths surrounding mouthwash and help you decide whether it’s a good option for you or not. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to speak with our periodontists here at Pacific Northwest Periodontics.
What Does It Do?
Before we can determine whether mouthwash is a good option for oral hygiene, it’s nice to know what its purpose is in the first place. Above all, the purpose of mouthwash is to kill harmful bacteria within the mouth. Unlike toothpaste, most mouthwashes do not contain fluoride, a mineral that helps prevent tooth decay by making teeth more resistant to harmful acid, bacteria, and sugars in the mouth. Mouthwash, on the other hand, comes in several different varieties, so it’s important to understand the difference between them before making a choice.
If your main concern is reversing bad breath, breath-freshening mouthwash is your best bet. Chlorine and zinc are the two primary ingredients in this type of mouthwash. Some will also contain a germicide called cetylpyridinium which can help fight gum disease and plaque. These mouthwashes are often easier on the taste buds due to a lower alcohol content.
Although antibacterial mouthwashes are also used to treat bad breath, they can also help prevent gingivitis and plaque. Over-the-counter mouthwashes containing menthol, methyl salicylate, eucalyptol, and thymol effectively reduce plaque and gum disease by reducing bacteria within the mouth by around 75 percent.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that will coat the teeth in a protective layer that helps to prevent decay. However, since antibacterial and fluoride are not compatible, it’s difficult to make an “all-in-one” mouthwash. If you get cavities often, you may want to try using this type of mouthwash after brushing.
The active ingredient in prescription mouthwash is chlorhexidine, an ingredient that has stronger antibacterial properties than standard antibacterial mouthwashes that can be bought over-the-counter. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved these mouthwashes as effective at treating gum disease. However, chlorhexidine is known to stain teeth which is why these are prescription only. If you’d like to learn more about these mouthwashes, speak with your dentist.
For the most part, mouthwash is beneficial, however, there are several other things you should consider before deciding if mouthwash is right for you.
Many mouth rinses contain alcohol — mainly ethanol — which can lead to dry mouth and can burn the mouth. If you have oral sores or burning mouth syndrome, this is not ideal and you may want to consider finding a non-alcoholic alternative. If you have low saliva in your mouth or haven’t been drinking enough water, it’s recommended that you avoid alcoholic mouth rinses.
It’s not A Replacement For Brushing And Flossing
Although there are a variety of mouthwashes on the market to help you maintain your oral health, simply swishing with mouthwash is not enough to replace brushing and flossing. The actual act of brushing is what removes a lot of the bacteria, sugars, and plaque from the teeth, which will eventually become tartar and result in tooth decay. Flossing removes bacteria from in between the teeth where mouthwash can’t reach. Although mouthwash can prevent gum disease, that’s not the whole story!
If you plan on using mouthwash as a part of your oral hygiene routine, it’s best to consult with your dentist first and see if an over-the-counter or prescription product will be best for you. They may recommend a certain type or brand depending on your current oral health condition.
If your goal is to keep gum disease, gingivitis, or periodontal disease under control, it’s best to consult with your local Seattle periodontist before deciding on a mouthwash. We’ll help you choose one that won’t irritate your mouth but can be a great supplement to your brushing and flossing routine.