Mouthwash: The Missing Link to Great Oral Hygiene
For most of us, we tend to keep our oral hygiene rituals relatively simple. Often we stop at brushing and flossing our teeth, making it easy to overlook key steps we could be missing. One important addition that gets overlooked is mouthwash.
By routinely using mouthwash, you can greatly improve your oral health and smile. But for such a simple step, there are many questions people have on how to best use it. Should you rinse before or after you brush? Does it matter what kind you choose? Should you use a mouthwash that contains alcohol?
To help clear up common myths and general questions, we have created a guide to break it down for you how to get your mouthwash habits on the right track.
Follow these tips for a cleaner (and potentially cavity-free) mouth.
Types of Mouthwash
Mouthwash can be used for a variety for reasons. Some mouthwashes freshen your breath, while others prevent and control tooth decay, reduce plaque, and prevent gingivitis. Choosing the right mouthwash depends on what your needs are and what you’re looking to gain. With such a wide array of mouthwashes to choose from, it’s important to find the right fit for you.
While cosmetic mouthwash doesn’t kill the odor-causing bacteria that causes bad breath or increase tooth strength, it does control and reduce bad breath. Also, cosmetic mouthwash rinses away any lingering food particles and leaves your mouth with a refreshed, minty feeling.
As useful as they are, cosmetic rinses are more limited compared to other options, as they don’t prevent cavities from forming and will only mask bad breath temporarily. If bad breath or acquiring cavities are big factors for you, you may want to consider a therapeutic mouthwash.
Where cosmetic mouthwashes just scratch the surface, therapeutic rinses pick up the slack. Therapeutic rinses offer all the same benefits of a cosmetic rinse, but can also help you prevent gingivitis that can lead to gum disease, reduce plaque buildup, and lessen your chances for cavities.
Therapeutic mouthwashes come in four different styles of rinses to specifically cater to your needs:
- Anti-plaque/anti-gingivitis: control bacterial plaque and control gingivitis, a form of gum (periodontal) disease.
- Anti-cavity: contains fluoride which helps strengthens teeth and prevents tooth decay.
- Anti-tartar: this rinse contains agents such as zinc citrate, which helps break down and reduce tartar build up.
- Antibacterial/antimicrobial/antibiotic: reduce bacterial count and inhibit the bacterial activity that can cause gum disease.
Flushing Out the Myths
Now that you know more about each type of mouthwash, you can filter through common questions to help pick the right one for you. When should you use your mouthwash? What do dentists recommend?
Therapeutic mouthwashes often contain essential ingredients like fluoride that have been proven to reduce plaque and fight cavities. Using these mouthwashes after brushing allows you to rinse out any remaining bacteria that has been loosened during flossing and brushing as well as protect your teeth for the hours following their use.
According to the American Dental Association, the order of use is less important as long as you do brush and floss. The only exception to this recommendation is when using a fluoride mouth rinse. You should refrain from eating, drinking, or even rinsing your mouth with water after using a fluoride mouthwash. This allows extra time for your mouth to use the fluoride to protect your teeth.
When using fluoride toothpaste, you can brush after using mouthwash, but after brushing you still should not eat, drink, or rinse with water. Again, this will make sure fluoride remains on the teeth and builds a protective barrier against plaque. When using toothpaste that does not contain fluoride, you should save the mouthwash for the last step.
If the mouthwash is simply for cosmetic reasons, it is fine to use prior to brushing and flossing.
How to Use Your Mouthwash
When using mouthwash, you should always first read the directions supplied by the manufacturer on the bottle, but here are a few general steps for rinsing with mouthwash:
1. Dispense the suggested amount of mouthwash into the cap or a small cup.
2. Swish the mouthwash around your mouth vigorously for 30-60 seconds.
3. Gargle the mouthwash for an additional 30-60 seconds. Although a full two minutes may seem like a long time, gargling with a therapeutic rinse kills odor-causing bacteria that live in the throat.
Dentist Tip: If you have trouble keeping the mouthwash in your mouth for this long, try spitting in-between swishing and gargling.
4. Spit out mouthwash into the sink.
5. Enjoy that fresh and clean feeling!
Skip Alcohol-Based Mouthwashes
When picking a mouthwash to use, avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol. These products tend to dry out the mouth and lower your saliva production. Saliva contains oxygen that naturally helps kill bacteria in the mouth. When the saliva levels in your mouth drop, this bacteria starts to grow and thrive, eventually leading to an increase in bad breath.
Oral rinses that contain alcohol are also known to cause tissue irritation in the mouth, which may lead to painful mouth sores. Alternatively, look for mouthwashes that are alcohol-free to keep saliva levels normal, prevent oral sores, and steer clear of any potential problems it could cause.
Don’t Forget to Brush and Floss
Although a fluoride-based mouthwash can act as a barrier for teeth once they are clean, mouthwash is a supplement, not a replacement for brushing and flossing. These dental hygiene practices manually scrape food and bacteria deposits from teeth, preventing tooth decay and plaque buildup. To fully ensure the health of your teeth, dentists recommend a combination of brushing, flossing and using mouthwash for a great oral hygiene routine.
As you are contemplating adding mouthwash to your routine, remember to consider why you are using it to determine which is the best option for you. Rinsing for better breath involves a basic cosmetic mouthwash, while a fluoride rinse is advised for patients that want stronger, cleaner teeth. Look for a product that does not contain alcohol and follow the instructions provided on the bottle by the manufacturer for the best results.
Dentist Tip: If using a product with fluoride, you should use the product after brushing, but a cosmetic mouthwash should be used prior to flossing and brushing.
Finally, remember that whether cosmetic or therapeutic, mouthwashes do not replace brushing and flossing, but instead act as a supplemental practice for better oral hygiene.