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What You Should Know About Mouthwash

Mouthwash, also called oral rinse, is a liquid product used to rinse your teeth, gums, and mouth. It usually contains an antiseptic to kill harmful bacteria that can live between your teeth and your tongue.

Some people use mouthwash to fight against bad breath, while others use it to try to prevent tooth decay.

Mouthwash doesn’t replace brushing your teeth or flossing in terms of oral hygiene, and it’s only effective when used correctly. It’s also important to understand that different product formulas contain different ingredients, and not all mouthwashes can strengthen your teeth.

Young woman washing her teeth with mouthwash.
Young woman washing her teeth with mouthwash.

Mouthwash is one method of maintenance of oral health care. The use of mouthwash effectively reaches inaccessible areas that are difficult to clean with a toothbrush and can prevent plaque and caries formation.

The liquid mouthwash used to rinse the oral cavity has several objectives, such as protecting against pathogenic bacteria, removing bad odors, having therapeutic effects, and eliminating infection and/or preventing dental caries.

Why Use Mouthwash?

Just like dental floss, interdental brushes, and water floss, mouthwash can get in between teeth. Reaching areas that your toothbrush can’t get to help to reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease.

Mouthwash can help:
Prevent or control tooth decay
Reduce plaque (a thin film of bacteria that forms on teeth)
Prevent or reduce gingivitis (an early stage of gum disease)
Reduce the speed that tartar (hardened plaque) forms on the teeth or produce a combination of these effects
Freshen breath

Types of Mouthwash

There are two main types of mouthwashes:
Therapeutic mouthwashes. These have active ingredients that kill bacteria and can help reduce plaque, gingivitis, cavities, and bad breath. Those that contain fluoride help prevent or reduce tooth decay.

Cosmetic mouthwashes. These may temporarily control or reduce bad breath and leave your mouth with a pleasant taste, but don’t reduce your risk of cavities or gum disease.

Some therapeutic mouthwash require a prescription, but many types are available over the counter. Talk to your dentist about whether you need a mouthwash and what kind to use, depending on your dental health needs.

When selecting an over-the-counter mouthwash, look for products that carry the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance, which means that they have been tested and shown to be safe and effective.

How to use fluoride mouthwash and rinses

Many dentists believe that twice-daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste provides enough fluoride for cavity protection. But if you’re prone to cavities, you can use a fluoride mouth rinse in addition to brushing and flossing your teeth.

Some studies have shown that mouth rinses with fluoride can supplement daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste, especially in areas where drinking water is not supplemented with fluoride. These rinses are effective in strengthening the enamel of your teeth and protecting your teeth from acid damage.

Steps to follow when using a fluoride rinse

Use the right amount – Use the amount of rinse indicated on the label or as directed by your dentist.
Swish like you mean it – Keep your mouth closed and swish the rinse vigorously as directed on the label.
Spit – Don’t swallow mouth rinse. The fluoride in most fluoride rinses can be toxic if you swallow large enough amounts. If you allow your child to use mouthwash, supervise to be sure that he or she spits it out and doesn’t swallow it.
Wait – To get the most benefit from a fluoride mouthwash, avoid eating, drinking, or smoking for at least 30 minutes so you don’t wash away the fluoride.

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