While it’s nice to have that refreshing, minty mouth right after swishing, your mouthwash is doing more than just giving your breath a boost. Just looking on the mouthwash labels, it’s safe to say mouthwashes claim to fight plaque, whiten teeth, freshen breath and prevent against tooth decay. While dentists promote its benefits as well, some critics question the effectiveness of using mouthwash on a regular basis. So, who’s right? Is mouthwash all it promises to be? Or is it a waste of our time, better to be spent on flossing and brushing alone? It’s not a black and white issue, so let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of mouthwash.
- Mouthwash does fight gum disease. As we discussed in one of our previous blogs, periodontal disease develops when the gums and tooth sockets get inflamed or infected because plaque and bacteria develop from food left on teeth. So, an antibacterial mouthwash containing alcohol or chlorhexidine may help prevent periodontal disease. Take that, gum disease.
- It fights and prevents cavities. There’s really no disputing this one. Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel, which protects against cavities (decay). There are countless studies that prove that fluoride reduces demineralization and decay of the teeth.
- Mouthwash soothes canker sores. If you’ve ever had a canker sore and rinsed with Listerine, you may find this one hard to believe! While some mouthwashes containing a high amount of alcohol may irritate a canker sore, causing your mouth to burn and tears to form in your eyes, the right mouthwash or even a simple saltwater rinse can ease a canker sore by detoxing the area from bacteria that can irritate the site. Ask your dentist which rinse is best.
- Mouthwash protects your pregnancy. Did you know that periodontal disease is actually a risk factor for giving birth to preterm, low-weight babies? The bacteria from a gum infection can get into a pregnant woman’s bloodstream and increase inflammatory markers, which in turn can stimulate contractions. And a recent study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that expectant mothers who used mouthwash throughout their pregnancy were less likely to go into early labor.
Mouthwash can be very beneficial. Or maybe we should say that the right kind of mouthwash can be very beneficial. Not all mouthwashes were created equal. Saltwater rinses can be made at home with warm water and salt, whereas store-bought types contain a variety of ingredients ranging from fluoride (Act) to alcohol (Listerine). Dentists also carry a prescription brand called chlorhexidine (Peridex), which is an antimicrobial that decreases the amount of bacteria in the mouth and fights gingivitis.
The term mouthwash “cons” is being used very loosely, here. The truth is, mouthwash has proven benefits that far outweigh the argued drawbacks. Still, in the spirit of being fair…let’s look at some of the potential downside to mouthwash’s effectiveness.
- It can irritate canker sores. We mentioned earlier that some mouthwash can help ease canker sore pain, but mouthwash gets a bad rap because it can also irritate canker sores if the alcohol content of the mouthwash is too high.
- Mouth rinse only masks bad breath…it doesn’t cure it. Mouthwash can lead to temporarily fresher breath, but if you have poor oral hygiene, no amount of mouthwash can mask the effects of poor health. It’s basically like dabbing on some cologne after not bathing for a week.
- Alcohol use has been linked to oral cancer. But don’t throw away your mouthwash and start worrying! We should mention that the debate over whether alcohol-containing mouthwashes are linked to oral cancer continues — it’s an issue that has been discussed since the 1970s with no definitive conclusion. Using a rinse is very different than actually consuming drinking alcohol, and usually there is a synergistic effect with smoking. So, this doesn’t give you an excuse not to ever use mouthwash again! The American Dental Association only puts its seal of approval on proven research and would not allow mouthwash products on the market with their seal that would have such negative side effects. You’re in the clear.
For all those who are utterly exhausted at night and considering the lazy oral care approach…swishing with a mouthwash does not replace a good brush and floss session! Even when it can be helpful in lessening the risk of periodontal disease and cavities, mouthwash should always be used in conjunction with good hygiene habits. The key is to know that IT SHOULD BE USED.
Remember that everyone is different, and so are their oral care needs. For example, if you have periodontal disease, Listerine is a good choice because it reduces the bacteria that causes the disease. If you develop cavities more easily, try a high-fluoride rinse like Act. Talk with Dr. Ullah about the best choice of toothbrush, paste and mouth rinse for you. Maintain your oral health with regularly scheduled cleanings and your personalized daily brushing, flossing and mouthwash, and you’re on your way to a healthier mouth!