Is mouthwash good for your teeth?

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Sure mouthwash can leave your mouth feeling fresh and clean and some can even whiten your teeth, but are there any actual health benefits to using it regularly? Let’s take a look at the effect that regular use of mouthwash can have on your overall dental health.

Most mouthwashes these days come with a whole host of benefits, including teeth whitening and even enamel strengthening. In general, though, most mouthwashes you can buy at the pharmacy or grocery store serve three primary roles when it comes to your dental health:

  • Rinsing away particles that could become lodged between your teeth and gums and cause discomfort or even infection;
  • Freshening breath
  • Preventing plaque buildup

Here are some important things the American Dental Association wants you to know about mouthwash:

  • There are two main types: cosmetic and therapeutic.
  • Therapeutic mouthwashes are sold over-the-counter, but some are available only by prescription.
  • Children under age of 6 should not use mouthwash, unless directed by a dentist, because they could accidentally swallow it.
  • The ADA Seal of Acceptance is given to companies that provide scientific evidence demonstrating the safety and efficacy of their mouthwash product. You can look for the seal on any mouthwash you may consider buying.

When Do Dentists Recommend Mouthwash?

Because of these benefits, it’s fairly common for dentists to recommend using mouthwash, including some that combat specific issues. These therapeutic mouthwashes can help to prevent or reduce and control gingivitis and even tooth decay because they contain ingredients that many standard mouthwashes do not. For example: fluoride combats tooth decay; peroxide cleans away mucus and dead skin cells; chlorhexidine reduces the presence of harmful microbes in the mouth; cetylpyridinium chloride is best for antiseptic use against plaque and gingivitis; and even essential oils like eucalyptol, tea tree, menthol, thymol, and methyl salicylate, which have antimicrobial properties. Some of these mouthwashes even require a prescription.

The following are some of the more common reasons your dentist may recommend the use of one of these mouthwashes:

Increased fluoride

Fluoride is well-known as one of the best ingredients for combating tooth decay or cavities because it helps to strengthen your tooth’s protective outer surface called the enamel.

So, if you’re at risk for cavities or recently had one filled (which means you’re susceptible), your dentist may recommend a fluoride mouthwash to help give your teeth a protective boost.

Gingivitis and plaque buildup

Mouthwashes that can kill harmful bacteria are frequently recommended for people with gingivitis or significant plaque buildup. These often include antimicrobial ingredients like chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium or even essential oils. These mouthwashes can help to reduce inflammation and can even reverse gingivitis or plaque buildup.

Dry socket

If you’ve ever had a tooth extracted, you already know you have to watch out for a condition called dry socket. This is something that can happen after surgery when you’re left with an empty socket where the tooth used to be. If the blood clot that forms after the surgery gets dislodged, bacteria can get into this area and cause an infection. Some of the same antimicrobial mouthwashes that are used for gingivitis can be used for dry socket.

Bad breath

Bad breath, also known as halitosis or oral malodor, sometimes occurs due to odor-producing bacteria in the mouth. This can be caused by something as simple as plaque or leftover food particles. But bad breath also can be a sign of oral disease. If you’re experiencing chronic bad breath, your dentist may recommend a mouthwash with antimicrobial properties.

Is it OK to use mouthwash every day?

In general, yes, but it can depend on the type of mouthwash you’re using and what your dentist recommends. Always read the bottle for usage guidelines and, if you’re in doubt, it’s smart to ask your dentist.

Additionally, you may have heard that mouthwashes containing alcohol could lead to oral cancers. But the ADA notes that “a recent systematic review and meta-analysis failed to find an association between mouthwash use and oral cancer, use of alcohol-containing mouthwash and oral cancer, or mouthwash dose response and oral cancer.”

“Mouthwashes can be a great part of your dental hygiene routine,” Dr. Theresa Hayward, a dentist in Louisville, Kentucky, explains. “But, using mouthwash should never replace brushing and flossing. Mouthwashes are useful in getting to areas of the mouth that have been missed in regular cleaning, and it’s fine to use a mouth rinse every day to ward off bad breath. But remember, not all mouthwashes kill bacteria or help in controlling other oral conditions.”

How does mouthwash help my teeth?

Mouthwash is like a sidekick for your toothbrush and toothpaste. It kills the filmy bacteria in your mouth that collects in hard-to-reach places like between your teeth, on gum lines, and certain areas of the tongue. This matters because bacteria can cause gum disease, bad breath, and plaque. Just swishing it around in your mouth for 30-60 seconds can do the trick.

Just keep in mind that our mouths are home to a complex number of bacterias, some of them good. Mouthwash use that your dentist has not recommended or prescribed could actually dry out your mouth, making it a prime environment for ulcers and other complications. That’s why many dentists recommend alcohol-free mouthwashes because the ethanol in some mouthwashes can kill off good bacteria.

Should I Use Mouthwash Before or After Brushing?

Most experts recommend that you not use mouthwash after regular brushing because it could rinse away your toothpaste’s fluoride benefits. Instead, try using mouthwash after a meal or at least 30 minutes after brushing and flossing your teeth. And, of course, don’t eat or drink anything directly after using mouthwash so you don’t reduce its effects.

Overall, mouthwashes are safe and effective. But they are not all created equal. That’s why it’s smart to consult with your dentist to see if a prescription or specific therapeutic over-the-counter mouthwash is right for you.

When Should I See a Dentist?

If you’re experiencing chronic bad breath, signs of gingivitis, or oral sores, it’s a good idea to check in with your dentist. These may be signs that you have a serious underlying condition that may need treatment.

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by

Image Credit: AndreyPopov / iStock.