For many Americans, using mouthwash is a habitual part of their oral health routine. We floss, brush, rinse with mouthwash, and then step off to work or to bed.
Because using mouthwash often feels like second nature, many people don’t take the time to consider why they’re using mouthwash in the first place and whether it’s actually doing them any good.
The truth is that mouthwash boasts a number of benefits—but it’s not without its cautionary tales. Before you reach for the bottle of mouthwash beside your bathroom sink, take the time to learn about the pros and cons of using it in the first place.
It can help fight cavities. Mouthwash can help rinse away bacteria that might otherwise cling to your teeth and contribute to decay. If your mouthwash contains fluoride, that gives you an extra bit of protection against cavities by helping to strengthen your teeth’s enamel.
It can help keep your gums healthy. Because mouthwash helps rinse away bacteria, this means bacteria is less likely to stick around the gums and provoke inflammation, infection, or gum disease.
It can help whiten teeth. Some mouthwashes may help remove stains from the teeth and contribute to a whiter appearance overall.
It freshens your breath. Knowing your breath is minty fresh can be a major confidence booster at work and in your personal life.
It can help soothe canker sores. Canker sores (aka mouth ulcers) are uncomfortable or painful sores that can form inside the mouth. A gentle (non-alcohol-based) mouthwash may help canker sores heal faster by eradicating inflammation-causing bacteria around the sore.
It’s very important to note that these benefits aren’t simply due to using mouthwash. Instead, they’re the result of using mouthwash as part of a comprehensive oral health care routine that includes proper brushing and flossing. Using mouthwash alone is not enough to achieve these lasting benefits.
It may cause irritation. Mouthwashes with a high alcohol content may have strong antibacterial properties, but they can also irritate the tissues in the mouth and even make it more difficult for canker sores to heal.
It may not be safe for (accidental) consumption. Some mouthwashes contain ingredients that are harmful if accidentally swallowed. This is a big reason why mouthwash is generally not recommended for use by children under the age of six.
It may cause dry mouth. Regular or excessive use of alcohol-based mouthwashes can dry out your mouth, which can lead to tooth sensitivity, bad breath, and even cavities.
It can mask potential oral health issues. If you suffer from chronic halitosis (aka bad breath), you may be able to mask it with regular mouthwash use. But masking a condition and effectively treating a condition are not the same thing. Chronic bad breath is a sign you should visit a dentist, not just ramp up your mouthwash usage.
As you can see, the answer to the question of whether or not to use mouthwash is not one-size-fits-all. If you have questions or concerns about your mouthwash or any other aspect of your oral health routine, it’s important to chat with your dentist to determine the right course of action for you.
No matter what, remember that mouthwash is never a substitute for a proper tooth brushing and flossing routine, and it’s not a cure for oral health issues. At its best, it’s a complementary habit that may give your mouth an added health boost.