A Guide to Mouthwash

What role can mouthwashes play in your oral hygiene programme? The majority of dentists and oral hygienists view mouthwashes as an ‘added extra’. This means that using a mouthwash may help to keep your breath fresh and to remove food debris. However, a mouthwash is not a necessary part of your daily regimen. It should be sufficient to clean and floss your teeth if you want to keep them healthy.

However, many of us enjoy using a mouthwash, especially in the morning. It freshens our mouths, freshens our breath and wakes us up. But are there really any dental benefits to mouthwashes? There are so many products on the market, with such variations in cost, how do you know what works and what doesn’t? It isn’t easy.

Various different types of mouthwash make various different claims. Some claim to freshen your breath. Some claim to fight bacteria. Some claim to stop plaque from building up. So how effective are they? And how do you choose the product that is right for you?

Broadly speaking, there are three types of mouthwash. The first group could be called cosmetic mouthwashes and they are designed purely to combat bad breath. They may freshen your mouth, mask stale odours and make your teeth feel clean, but they rarely have the power to combat bacteria or plaque. Therefore, they do not protect your teeth against decay.

The second types of mouthwash available are antiseptic mouthwashes. These are mouthwashes that claim to do more than simply mask bad breath. They actively fight plaque and protect your teeth against decay. Most dentists will agree that these kinds of mouthwashes work to varying degrees – some research has shown that mouthwash can reduce plaque by up to 25%. However, this kind of mouthwash should never be used as a substitute for proper brushing and flossing of your teeth.

Finally, flouride mouthwashes are also available for people who are particularly susceptible to tooth decay. Most of us get the flouride we need from drinking water and flouride toothpastes. Therefore, you should never add extra flouride supplements to your oral health regimen without consulting your dentist first.

Before settling on your choice of mouthwash, therefore, you should consider what exactly you require. Your dental practice may sell a particular brand which it endorses, so it is definitely worth asking your dentist what their professional opinion is.

One other issue to be aware of is that many mouthwashes contain alcohol. This is a controversial issue for two reasons. The first is that many mouthwashes are manufactured in bright colours, with flavours which mask the antiseptic and alcohol in them. People argue that this makes them more appealing to children and toddlers who may want to try and drink them. Of course, the alcohol content makes these mouthwashes particularly dangerous for children and they must be kept out of reach. Alternatively, many parents simply choose not to use mouthwashes which contain alcohol as they put the health of their children first.

The second controversial issue about alcohol in mouthwash is that some research has suggested that it can be a contributing cause to mouth cancer. Some mouthwash can contain as much as 25% alcohol and as recently as January 2009, The Telegraph newspaper was reporting on recent research which concluded that the increased possibility of cancer after using certain types of mouthwashes was four or fivefold. It is this kind of research that leads most dentists to reiterate that, if you do not wish to use mouthwash, you should not need to. Brushing, flossing and visiting your dentist should be adequate protection.

Increasing, there are more and more alcohol-free mouthwashes on the market which do not have the association with mouth cancer. But it is still important to remember that you need to think carefully about why you want to use mouthwash. If you are using a mouthwash to combat halitosis or mouth ulcers, for example, the mouthwash could simply be masking a more serious, underlying problem. Therefore, it is essential that you also consult your dentist to ensure that there are no other health issues affecting to your oral hygiene.