Should You Be Using Mouthwash?

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Do you use mouthwash? Should you be using mouthwash? Many people wonder whether or not they should use mouthwash, since they are not as familiar with mouthwash as they are with toothpaste or dental floss. Unlike brushing and flossing, which have been instilled in us as essential, daily mouthwash use has more of an optional connotation. It is true that not everyone needs mouthwash, however just about everyone over the age of 6 can benefit from mouthwash use. For some people especially, mouthwash is almost essential because of its impact on certain oral health conditions. To clear up some of the uncertainty about mouthwash, here is a little more about what mouthwash is and how it can be used to manage certain oral health conditions.

What is mouthwash?

Most people have seen the rainbow of mouthwash bottles that line the dental aisle, and they may have even used mouthwash before. With so many options, however, how do you even know which to choose? For starters, it is important to note that there are two main types of mouthwash:

  • Cosmetic Mouthwash: temporarily masks and controls odors responsible for bad breath, however does not kill the bacteria that causes them. 
  • Therapeutic Mouthwash: contains ingredients that serve a specific purpose and/or treat a specific oral health concern
different colors of mouthwash

If you are looking for a mouthwash to improve or manage your oral health, then you will want to look for a therapeutic mouthwash. In fact, this is what most dentists recommend. Therapeutic mouthwashes can be identified by the ingredients they contain. Depending on the main goal of a particular mouthwash, therapeutic mouthwashes may contain one or more of the following: 

  • Cetylpyridinium chloride: reduces bad breath
  • Chlorhexidine: available in prescription mouthwash only, chlorhexidine is used to decrease plaque accumulation to treat gingivitis. It is only designed for temporary use and can stain the teeth if used for extended periods of time. 
  • Essential oils (eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, thymol): used in over the counter mouthwashes formulated for treating gum disease by killing bacteria and preventing plaque accumulation. 
  • Fluoride: used to prevent tooth decay by strengthening the tooth enamel and making it more resistant to decay. 
  • Peroxide: used in whitening mouthwashes to help lighten the teeth and prevent future stains from forming. Generally more effective at preventing stains. 

Oftentimes, mouthwash may be directed at a single oral health issue. This means that you will need to place some thought as to your primary oral health concern. It is also recommended to discuss your options with your dentist to make sure you are making the best decision for your oral health. 

Should YOU be using mouthwash?

Now, let’s take a look at whether or not YOU should be using mouthwash. Although mouthwash can be beneficial for just about anyone, daily mouthwash use is especially beneficial to individuals with the following oral health concerns: 

Gum Disease

Gum disease occurs when excess plaque and bacteria accumulate along the gum line and cause inflammation. Daily mouthwash use for gum disease is beneficial because the essential oils kill bacteria responsible for gum disease and make it harder for future plaque to accumulate. By reducing the amount of plaque and bacteria in the mouth, daily mouthwash use can help treat gum disease. In some cases, your dentist may even prescribe a chlorhexidine rinse to use. 

Tooth Decay

woman pouring mouthwash

Although daily mouthwash use cannot reverse a cavity that has already formed, the fluoride in mouthwash can reverse the first stage of tooth decay known as demineralization. This is because fluoride helps to strengthen the enamel by providing the necessary minerals to rebuild its structure. Daily mouthwash use with a mouthwash containing fluoride is ideal for individuals who are prone to tooth decay or have worn/thin enamel. 

Dry Mouth

More formally known as xerostomia, dry mouth is when the body does not produce enough saliva. Dry mouth can be caused by a variety of things, such as medications or certain health conditions. Without proper saliva production, however, the mouth is unable to control bacterial populations or neutralize the acids found in food and produced by bacteria. Consequently, people with dry mouth are more likely to develop tooth decay and gum disease. For these reasons, your dentist is likely to recommend a mouthwash specifically formulated for people with dry mouth. This type of mouthwash contains fluoride to strengthen the enamel, as well as saliva substitutes such as cellulose derivatives, enzymes, and/or animal mucins. People with dry mouth should also look for alcohol-free mouthwash, since alcohol can make dry mouth worse. 

Stained Teeth

Whitening mouthwashes contain whitening agents such as carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. Both whitening agents help to remove stains by breaking apart discolored molecules. However, whitening mouthwashes are more effective at preventing future stains than they are at removing existing stains. For this reason, it is recommended to have your teeth professionally whitened before using a whitening mouthwash for the best results. 

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