We routinely have patients to come to us and say, “I don’t brush at night.. but I always use mouthwash!” or “I use mouthwash daily, I still have terrible breath!.” As a dentist, I cannot emphasize this enough to my patients-

Brands that manufacture mouthwashes claim they have a wide range of advantages from minty fresh breath to a variety of health benefits.

But are the claims true? Is mouthwash really good for your mouth? Turns out, the answer is yes and no.

4 Important Mouthwash Pros

Mouthwash may:

  • Cut down on cavities. It is absolutely true that rinsing with a fluoride rinse can help reduce cavities. But there is definite a risk of too much fluoride (fluorosis), so only if you’re cavity prone, a fluoride mouth rinse is indicated.
  • Fight gum disease. With periodontal disease (such as gingivitis), gums and tooth sockets can get inflamed or infected because of plaque from bacteria and food that lingers on teeth. An antibacterial mouthwash, like one with chlorhexidine, may help prevent periodontal disease.
  • Soothe canker sores. “Mouthwash containing betadine can ease a canker sore by detoxing the area — reducing the amount of bacteria that can irritate the site. Although, in many cases, a simple warm saltwater rinse will do.
  • Safeguard your pregnancy. 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.

The point I’m trying to make is that a mouthwash clearly offers certain benefits — but it’s important to know that not all mouth rinses are the same. Certain mouthwashes are definitely helpful to tackle a definite problem.

3 Mouthwash Cons

Mouthwash is by no means a cure-all. In fact, mouthwash gets bad marks because it:

  • Irritates canker sores. If the alcohol content of your mouth rinse is too high, it may actually end up irritating the canker sore more than helping it.
  • Masks/ worsens bad breath. Mouthwash can lead to fresher breath, but it may be short-lived. If a patient has poor oral hygiene and doesn’t brush effectively, there is no amount of mouthwash that can mask the effects of poor health. Just using mouthwash would be equivalent to not bathing and using cologne to mask the smell.
    Also, certain alcohol based mouth rinses dry out the mouth after the initial bout of freshness, and this actually worsens bad breath!
  • Has been linked to oral cancer. The debate over whether alcohol-containing mouthwashes are linked to oral cancer continues — it’s an issue that has been discussed since the 1970's with no definitive answers.

Bottom Line

If you have a dental issue, the right mouthwash can definitely be beneficial to you, But remember, it should always be used in conjunction with good hygiene habits.