Should You Be Using Mouthwash?

Should You Be Using Mouthwash

According to the U.S. Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey (NHCS), around 60% of Americans used mouthwash in 2020. If you are part of the remaining 40% who does not use mouthwash, you may be wondering if this is something you should implement in your oral care routine. After all, the American Dental Association only recommends brushing twice a day and flossing daily, so is it really necessary to use mouthwash? To answer this question, we must first look closely at what mouthwash is composed of and how these components affect your oral health. 

What is mouthwash?

variety of mouthwash bottles

Most people have seen bottles of mouthwash stacked with toothbrushes and toothpaste on the dental aisle. While the liquid in these bottles come in a variety of colors, the most common are usually blue or green. If you have ever used mouthwash, you know that it is intended to be swished around your mouth for about 30 seconds before being spit out. 

However, not all mouthwash is the same and their formulas can vary just like different types of toothpaste. In fact, there are two main classifications of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic. Cosmetic mouthwash does not have a lasting effect on your oral health and is instead used to mask odors associated with bad breath. Therapeutic mouthwash, on the other hand, contains a variety of ingredients that do have a lasting effect on your oral health. Depending on the specific goal of that particular mouthwash, therapeutic mouthwashes can contain: 

  • Cetylpyridinium chloride: reduces bad breath
  • Chlorhexidine: controls plaque and gingivitis (prescription only)
  • Essential oils (eucalyptol, menthol, thymol, methyl salicylate): controls plaque and gingivitis
  • Fluoride: strengthens tooth enamel to prevent decay
  • Peroxide: used as a whitening agent in whitening mouthwashes

Just like certain types of toothpastes can be formulated to whiten teeth or protect against gum disease, certain mouthwashes can also have similar formulations to accomplish an oral health goal. Therefore, it is important to consider what goal you would like to accomplish when choosing a mouthwash. If you have dental restorations, it is also important to find a mouthwash that can benefit your oral healthy while also not damaging your restoration. In most cases, people with dental restorations are encouraged to avoid mouthwashes that contain peroxide since it can be unnecessarily harsh on restorations. An easy way to choose a safe and effective mouthwash is to look for the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance.

Should YOU Be Using Mouthwash?

While using mouthwash is not considered to be a necessary practice like brushing and flossing, it does offer a number of benefits for the individuals who use it regularly. Furthermore, regularly using mouthwash is extremely beneficial for individuals who are affected by the following oral health problems: 

  • Tooth Decay: unfortunately, using mouthwash cannot reverse tooth decay if a cavity has already formed, but it may be able to reverse the first stage of decay known as demineralization. This is because mouthwashes that protect against tooth decay are formulated with fluoride. Fluoride prevents cavities by strengthening the enamel, which decreases the amount of damage decay-causing bacteria can do. 
woman pouring a cup of mouthwash

  • Gum Disease: gingivitis and periodontitis are two forms of gum disease that are caused by plaque accumulation along the gum line. Mouthwashes that fight gum disease contain essential oils that can decrease the amount of plaque and bacteria along the gum line. In cases where you have a serious case of gum disease, your dentist may also prescribe a mouthwash that contains chlorhexidine. Although chlorhexidine is extremely effective against gum disease, prolonged use can cause stains on the teeth, so be sure to follow your dentist’s instructions when using a chlorhexidine rinse. 
  • Dry Mouth: when the mouth is unable to produce an adequate amount of saliva, this is known as dry mouth. Saliva is a necessary defence mechanism against decay-causing bacteria, which means that individuals with dry mouth are more prone to developing tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath. Mouthwash for dry mouth is formulated to mimic saliva in order to prevent these dental issues from occurring. It usually contains fluoride, enzymes, cellulose derivatives, and/or animal mucins. When treating dry mouth, you will also need to find an alcohol-free mouthwash since alcohol is known for making dry mouth worse.
  • Stained Teeth: Although whitening mouthwashes can remove some surface stains, they are not like a whitening treatment. Instead, whitening mouthwashes are most effective at the prevention of future stains. This is because they contain whiteners known as carbamide or hydrogen peroxide. However, these whiteners may be too abrasive for people with dental restorations or sensitive teeth. 
Dr. Sam Sadati wearing black suite portrait

Dr. Sadati possesses extensive experience in all aspects of advanced restorative dentistry, with an emphasis in cosmetic and implant dentistry.  He has attained Accredited Fellow status in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the most rigorous, demanding credentialing process in the world. He is the only AACD Accredited Fellow in South Florida.