Does Mouthwash Really Work?

By – Bad Breath Expert
Posted: March 30, 2016
SUMMARY: If used properly, mouthwash can be a powerful tool to improve oral care. Here is what you, the consumer, need to know.

Many people supplement regular brushing with the use of mouthwash. The British Health Foundation found that over 31 percent of people made it a daily part of their oral care routine. This begs the question, does mouthwash really work? Is it an integral component of healthy teeth and gums, or might it actually have some possibly adverse side effects? Read on for the truth about mouthwash:

What are the benefits of mouthwash?

Most dentists and oral care experts agree that mouthwash or oral rinse is one of a handful of tools people should use in maintaining proper oral health. Jefferson Dental Clinics explained that mouthwash has three key benefits for people of all ages. One, it removes food particles around your teeth and gums, which can one day turn into harmful plaque buildup. Similarly, mouthwash can help remove any plaque that's formed. Finally, mouthwash can help combat the anaerobic bacteria responsible for bad breath.

And there's more than just anecdotal evidence from dentists about the benefits of mouthwash. A 2013 study from the Academy of General Dentistry provided some keen insight into mouthwash's effectiveness . Using mouthwash at least twice a day can reduce plaque by over 26 percent. Not only that, but regular rinsing by one test group revealed a near 21 percent drop in instances of gingivitis. Often, your results depend on what kind of mouthwash you utilize. Real Simple explained that there are different rinses depending on your needs. While a mouthwash with fluoride is best for cavity protection, you'll need an oxygenating, antibacterial formula for battling bad breath.

Are there any downsides to mouthwash?

As beneficial as mouthwash has proven to be, it's not without its shortcomings either. Everyday Health pointed out that some people don't use mouthwash because of its lesser known side effects. For instance, if you use a mouthwash with alcohol, it can actually make your breath worse since it will lead to dry mouth - which will lead to bad breath. Though some mouthwashes can help with bad breath, most mouthwashes will only mask the odor and won't do anything to neutralize the bacteria causing the underlying condition. Speaking with the American Academy of General Dentistry, Dr. Barbara Rich, DDS, said that inferior mouthwash brands have other complications. That includes altering the taste of foods and beverages, staining teeth and drying out the gums, which can cause health issues down the road. 

Certain mouthwashes can even be harmful to your teeth, and it depends entirely on the chemical components of each individual mouthwash. What most people don't understand is that as many as 90 percent of mouthwashes have a similar acidity to vinegar. For instance, some brands have a pH of 3.2 or 3.7; for comparison, that's a similar range as certain big-name soft drink. You ultimately want something that has a higher pH, anything above water's 7.0, which won't harm the protective enamel. Aside from high acidity, many mouthwash brands feature other, more harmful chemicals. That includes alcohol, which we've already mentioned, sodium lauryl sulfate, which can dry out your mouth, as well as the artificial sweetener saccharin and benzalkonium chloride, a preservative found mostly in nasal sprays and drops.

What's the final word on mouthwash?

Ultimately, that answer depends on the person. Dr. Mark Langberg, DDS, explained that mouthwash is a tool, something to combine with regular brushing and flossing. For some people, it might actually be the solution in addressing certain oral care issues. Others may have medical needs that exceed the capabilities of even the most thorough rinsing. The best forms of mouthwash are those that do not contain harmful chemicals. Look for mouthwashes that are non-acidic and contain no alcohol. Finally, the most effective mouthwashes contain oxygenating compounds, which not only neutralize bad breath bacteria and odor but can also improve your oral health.

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