Mouthwash: what it does and when to use it

Mouthwash is often seen as a quick fix for bad breath, but its benefits extend far beyond just freshening your mouth. This blog explores the multifaceted role of mouthwash in oral hygiene, detailing its functions, the optimal times for its use, and how it can enhance your overall dental health.

In This Blog:

  • Understanding Mouthwash
  • The Benefits of Mouthwash
  • How and When to Use Mouthwash
  • The Role of Mouthwash in Professional Dental Care

Understanding Mouthwash

Mouthwash, also known as oral rinse, is a liquid product used to rinse your mouth, teeth, gums, and throat. Its primary functions include reducing oral bacteria, freshening breath, and providing protection against various dental conditions.

Mouthwash comes in various types, each designed to address specific oral health needs. Here are the main categories:

Cosmetic Mouthwash

  • Primary function: Freshens breath and provides a pleasant taste.
  • Does not significantly reduce bacteria or treat dental conditions.
  • Often contains ingredients to mask bad breath temporarily.

Therapeutic Mouthwash

Contains active ingredients to help treat and prevent oral health issues. Varieties of therapeutic mouthwash include:

  1. Antiseptic Mouthwash: Reduces bacteria and can help control conditions like gingivitis and halitosis (bad breath).
  2. Fluoride Mouthwash: Helps prevent tooth decay by strengthening tooth enamel.
  3. Anti-Plaque/Anti-Gingivitis Mouthwash: Helps control plaque and prevent gingivitis, a form of gum disease.
  4. Desensitizing Mouthwash: Contains ingredients to help reduce tooth sensitivity.

Natural/Organic Mouthwash

  • Made with natural ingredients, avoiding synthetic chemicals.
  • Common ingredients include essential oils, herbal extracts, and natural antiseptics.
  • Often marketed as a healthier or more environmentally friendly option.

Whitening Mouthwash

Contains bleaching agents like hydrogen peroxide to help lighten tooth stains over time.

Aims to provide cosmetic improvements in addition to freshening breath.

Alcohol-Free Mouthwash

  • Lacks the burning sensation of alcohol-based mouthwashes.
  • Suitable for those who find alcohol irritating or drying to the mouth tissues.

Specialized Mouthwash

Formulated for specific dental needs, such as dry mouth formulations, mouthwashes for orthodontic appliance wearers, or formulations for post-surgical care.

Choosing the right type of mouthwash depends on your personal oral health needs and preferences. It’s often beneficial to consult with a dental professional to select the most appropriate mouthwash for your specific situation.

The Benefits of Mouthwash

Mouthwash offers a range of benefits that extend beyond simply freshening breath. It plays a crucial role in oral health by helping to reduce the presence of harmful bacteria in the mouth, thus lowering the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and infection. Therapeutic mouthwashes, in particular, can contain ingredients like fluoride, which strengthens tooth enamel and helps prevent cavities. Antiseptic varieties target and reduce bacterial growth, helping to combat plaque build-up and gingivitis. Mouthwash can also reach places that brushing and flossing might miss, providing an additional layer of protection. Furthermore, specific formulations are designed to address conditions such as dry mouth, sensitivity, and oral ulcers, offering relief and promoting healing. Overall, incorporating mouthwash into daily oral hygiene routines can significantly enhance oral health, complementing the effects of brushing and flossing for a cleaner, healthier mouth.

When and How to Use Mouthwash

The best time to use mouthwash is after brushing and flossing, as it can help remove any remaining particles and bacteria, and enhance the clean feeling in your mouth. Using mouthwash at this time ensures that the active ingredients work effectively on a clean oral surface. Morning and night are ideal times to use mouthwash, contributing to fresh breath and extended oral hygiene throughout the day and while sleeping.

Here’s how to use mouthwash properly:

  1. Brush and Floss First: Start by thoroughly brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste and flossing to remove food particles and plaque.
  1. Read the Label: Check the mouthwash bottle for specific instructions regarding the amount to use and whether it needs to be diluted with water.
  1. Measure the Mouthwash: Pour the recommended amount of mouthwash into a cup or directly into your mouth. The typical amount is about 20 milliliters or 4 teaspoons.
  1. Swish Properly: Sip the mouthwash into your mouth and swish it around vigorously. Ensure that the liquid reaches all parts of your mouth, including between the teeth and the back of the throat. Do this for about 30 seconds to a minute.
  1. Gargle: To clean the back of your mouth and throat, tilt your head back slightly and gargle for a few seconds.
  1. Spit, Don’t Swallow: After swishing and gargling, spit the mouthwash out into the sink. Mouthwash should not be swallowed, as it contains ingredients that are not meant for ingestion.
  1. Avoid Rinsing: After using mouthwash, avoid rinsing your mouth with water or eating and drinking for at least 30 minutes. This allows the active ingredients in the mouthwash to have maximum contact time with your teeth and gums.

Following these steps will ensure that you get the most benefit from using mouthwash, keeping your mouth fresh and contributing to your overall oral health.

The Role of Mouthwash in Professional Dental Care

In professional dental care, mouthwash is utilized as a crucial adjunct to oral hygiene practices and treatments. Dentists often recommend or prescribe specific types of mouthwash to manage and prevent oral health issues. For instance, before dental procedures, patients may be asked to rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash to reduce microbial load and minimize the risk of infection. Post-operative care often includes the use of therapeutic mouthwashes to promote healing, reduce discomfort, and prevent complications such as infection. Moreover, in the management of periodontal disease, mouthwash containing anti-inflammatory or antibacterial agents can be an integral part of the treatment plan, helping to control plaque and reduce gum inflammation. In essence, mouthwash in professional dental care serves not only to enhance oral cleanliness but also to support treatment outcomes and maintain oral health in between dental visits.


By understanding what mouthwash does and when to use it, you can take a proactive step towards maintaining a healthy, fresh, and vibrant smile. Mouthwash is a valuable addition to daily oral hygiene practices. When used correctly and chosen according to individual needs, it can significantly enhance oral health, complementing the efforts of brushing and flossing. Remember, the key to a healthy mouth involves a comprehensive approach, and mouthwash is an important part of that equation.