Should I use mouthwash?

March 23, 2015, Tufts University
Should I use mouthwash?
“While mouthwash can be beneficial for both adults and children, remember that it is not a substitute for regular brushing and flossing,” says Peter Arsenault. Credit: Depositphotos

A mouthwash or therapeutic rinse can complement brushing and flossing, but it's not a license to abandon proven oral health care. Here are a few things to consider before incorporating one into your daily routine.

Simply rinsing helps remove plaque and debris from your teeth. Mouthwash does that, but even rinsing with plain water is good to do after meals and snacks. I recommend rinsing your mouth prior to brushing, as well as rinsing after brushing and flossing.

Mouthwashes fall into two main categories: cosmetic and therapeutic. Some cosmetic rinses contain as an active ingredient and claim to help whiten teeth. (I don't see strong evidence of mouth rinses with hydrogen peroxide significantly whitening one's teeth, which may be due to the limited contact time with the active ingredient.) Other oral rinses claim their ingredients mask bad breath. Of course, masking bad breath doesn't treat the underlying cause.

Sometimes bad breath is caused by food and debris caught between the teeth, but it can also be a result of an infection, decaying teeth or other health conditions. While most mouth rinses are flavored to mask bad breath, they are only a temporary fix. The cause of bad breath should be diagnosed by a health-care professional, who will recommend the appropriate treatment.

Therapeutic rinses, on the other hand, address a specific problem. Of the many types, some may, for instance, add fluoride, while others are meant to reduce plaque and inflammation of the gums that can lead to gum disease. Still others soothe canker sores or a sore mouth. One in some of the therapeutic mouthwashes is xylitol, which is known to inhibit the bacteria growth that can lead to tooth decay. Mouthwashes with this ingredient do curb , but they also help address the underlying cause of decay.

Additionally, some rinses are engineered to act as saliva substitutes, which help people who don't produce enough saliva. People with extreme dry mouth may have to use these rinses multiple times a day.

Many people believe that the flavor or color of a mouthwash contributes to its benefits, but these just make mouthwashes more appealing to the consumer.

Once you have found a mouthwash that meets your needs, it is important to understand that there is no "right" way to use mouthwash. The intended goal of the mouthwash determines how it should be used. For example, if the goal is to expose your teeth to fluoride, then rinsing should last for about one minute, usually before bedtime. If your main goal is to help clean your and other areas of your mouth, then gargling and swishing twice a day is best.  

And while mouthwash can be beneficial for both adults and children, remember that it is not a substitute for regular brushing and flossing.

Explore further: Prevent tooth loss and dental work with good gum care

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not rated yet Mar 23, 2015
Interesting read - but you didn't really mention the long-term effects of putting a cocktail of chemicals into your mouth which some medical studies are now reporting on, such as:
1. Increased risk of strokes (because nitrate producing bacteria are reduced - the ones that ensure blood vessels dilate) Source: Journal of Free Radical Biology and Medicine
2. Oral cancer risk increases for some alcohol based mouthwashes Source: Dental Journal of Australia
If the issue is about bad breath ...
Why not use a 100% chemical free oral debris remover such as a good old fashioned 'tongue scraper'? That will cure 80% of the cases of bad breath - that emanates from the tongue.
It worked for the Romans and Hindus ...
not rated yet Mar 25, 2015
Before you decide to use any, firstly determine what you need it for. All that over-the-counter mouthwashes do is cover-up a bad odor (bad breath) with a more pleasant one. Consumer Reports reported that the cover-up lasted from 10 minutes to 1 hour only.
As Director of the National Breath Center, I see people every day who are using one mouthwash or another to hide their bad breath. However, bad breath is caused by the bacteria that live in the biofilm that attaches itself to the tongue (coating) and under the gums. There is no mouthwash that can penetrate those biofilm coatings.
While the suggestion above, to use a tongue cleaner, is a good one, it only works for people who have limited biofilm coatings. The longer one has had bad breath and the worse that it is, means that even professional strength mouthwashes only last a limited amount of time. For chronic sufferers of bad breath the best procedure is Tongue Rejuvenation which totally removes the biofilm and the odor.

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