If you walk by the oral health care aisle in any major store, you’ll see rows of toothpaste and toothbrushes plus an overwhelming array of mouthwashes. You have most likely heard about the important of using that toothpaste and toothbrush to brush daily, but do those bottles of mouthwash really have a positive impact on your oral health or is a just a waste of money?
Four True Mouthwash Benefits
Reduce Cavities. If you rinse with a mouthwash containing fluoride you can both reduce your risk of cavities and reduce demineralization of your teeth.\
Battle Gum Disease. Your tooth sockets and gums can get inflamed or infected from plaque that is created by bacteria and food that sticks to your teeth. This is called gingivitis, which is a stage of periodontal disease. If you use an antibacterial mouthwash (one that contains alcohol or chlorhexidine), it will zap some of that bacteria in your mouth and may help prevent periodontal disease. But there are problems with this type of therapeutic mouthwash.
Help Heal a Canker Sore. If you have a canker sore, using mouthwash can help detox the area and reduce the bacteria that are irritating the area of the sore.
Safeguard Your Pregnancy. One of the risk factors for pregnant women is periodontal disease, which can lead to preterm, low-weight babies. The bacteria from a gum infection can enter the bloodstream of a pregnant woman and boost inflammatory markers, which can then stimulate contractions. Plus a recent national study found that pregnant women who used mouthwash throughout their pregnancy were less likely to go into early labor.
Five Mouthwash Myths
All Mouthwashes Are Made Equal. Cosmetic mouthwashes don’t do much more than loosen bits of food from your teeth, temporarily reduce bad breath, and leave a refreshing taste in your mouth. Therapeutic mouthwashes are more effective but have side effects (see below).
Mouthwash is Harmless. Many people who use therapeutic mouthwashes with a high alcohol content experience dry mouth. Ironically this is a cause of bad breath, plus it can irritate tissues in your mouth. It also causes sensitivity to the root surface of the teeth in some people. Although alcohol-free mouthwashes are available, they can also cause side effects. These include staining your teeth or causing a sensation of burning in your mouth. Essential oils in some mouthwashes may have an uncomfortably sharp taste. Chlorhexidine can temporarily alter your sense of taste, and isn’t recommended for long-term use.
Mouthwash Cures Bad Breath. Your bad breath may be temporarily curtailed by mouthwash, but it isn’t a permanent fix. The mouthwash may actually mask the symptoms of an oral health condition that is more serious than bad breath. In addition, stinky compounds from that garlicky lunch you ate are actually coming from your lungs as you exhale. So mouthwash won’t help you for very long. In addition, your natural saliva dilutes mouthwash and can reduce the effectiveness of the ingredients in your mouthwash.
Mouthwash Can Replace Brushing. Although some mouthwashes can cut back on the level of bacteria in your mouth, it isn’t a substitute for daily brushing and flossing. Mouthwash won’t remove plaque and food debris as efficiently or effectively as brushing and flossing. Research shows that adding a rinse with mouthwash to your oral care routine can in fact improve the overall cleanliness of your mouth and help keep gum inflammation at bay. But mouthwash is usually considered an add-on, not a replacement for brushing and flossing.
A Little Swish Is All You Need. If you do use mouthwash and you gargle or swish for a few seconds before spitting, then you’re not going to get much benefit from the mouthwash. It’s most effective if you gargle or rinse for a full 30 seconds.
Remember, what works for your friend may not be the right choice for you when it comes to using mouthwash. Consider your own oral health needs and be sure to chat with your dentist about their thoughts on the effects of mouthwash and which one they would recommend for you.
Sources: EverydayHealth.com, KnowYourTeeth.com, Best Health Magazine