Oral hygiene is no joke, and taking care of your mouth’s health is incredibly important, not only to assure no problems occur and no pain to arise, but also to keep your teeth and gums beautiful, and your smile always shining.
There are 2 main pillars of the oral hygiene regime, these are brushing and flossing. But there is a 3rd player that is often forgotten by most people, which is mouthwash.
Most people don’t realize the importance of mouthwash in their daily hygiene regimen, and they find themselves wondering “Is mouthwash necessary?”
To answer that question, we must first learn a few things about mouthwashes.
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Types of Mouthwash
There are a million brands of mouthwash in the market, and each claims to be the best at treating a certain something, so which one should I choose?
All you have to do is check the contents of the mouthwash, which are divided into 3 main categories:
- Fluoride containing Mouthwash: This is the most available type. Fluoride is a strong but soluble mineral, that can build up on the surface of the teeth, giving them strength and the ability to fight decay and bacteria, as well as decrease sensitivity of the teeth. This type can be used as a daily part of your routine, as it has no adverse effects on the long run. Make sure not to swallow it .. though.
- Antiseptic mouthwash: Antiseptic mouthwashes almost always contain Chlorohexidine, which is one of the strongest chemicals that can fight gum inflammation, as it works to kill the bacteria that causes the condition in the first place. These are often cheap, and prescribed by dentists and hygienists for people with active gum disease and bleeding. They serve to reduce plaque build-up and kill the bacteria which infest that plaque, minimizing the inflammation process. Their effect is magical and almost immediate, but make sure not to use them beyond the prescribed time period (which is usually two weeks) as they could stain your teeth and tongue.
- Mouthwashes with no active ingredient: These are available everywhere as over the counter medications, and even in supermarkets. These have no active ingredient and don’t serve to treat any specific condition. Their only purpose is to give you a clean feeling and a fresh breath, but the good news is that they do not do any harm to the teeth and mouth even with long term use, and most of them are even natural nowadays.
Uses of Mouthwash
According to the active ingredient (or lack there of), mouthwashes could be used to treat a variety of dental conditions including:
- Sensitivity: Teeth sensitivity arises when the outer protective layer (called the enamel) is lost or broken, exposing the underlying sensitive part of the tooth (called the dentine). The enamel could be lost as a result of decay, teeth grinding, cracking or trauma to the teeth. In cases of sensitivity, Fluoride containing mouthwashes are of great help, by forming a protective layer over the exposed dentine, blocking its pores and preventing the pain pathway.
- Fighting cavities: Again with the help of Fluoride mouthwash to form a protective covering on the surface of the tooth to help it fight off bacteria and their toxins, minimizing the chances for tooth decay and rot.
- Gum disease and inflammation: The first line of treatment for gum disease is taking care of your mouth’s cleanliness, by brushing and flossing regularly as you should. Mouthwash certainly helps to solve the situation faster, especially those containng Chlorohexidine as it is specifically poised to attack the inflammation-causing bacteria, killing them and decreasing their effect.
- Reducing plaque build-up: Some mouthwashes are specifically designed to fight gum disease, by preventing plaque (which is the first stone in the cascade of gum disease) from ever forming in the first place. Plaque is formed when you leave your teeth without cleaning for more than 72 hours, so using these mouthwashes would help in stretching that period a bit, but don’t be fooled to think they could replace brushing and flossing.
- Fighting Bad breath: There is perhaps nothing more awful than bad breath, especially if someone close to you suffers from it. Bad breath is a result of special types of bacteria that are already present in the mouth but become more active in certain situations, such as with smokers, fermenting the food remnants and producing the horribly bad breath. Almost all mouthwashes can fight bad breath, since all of them come with strong flavors which can mask the smell.
- Dry mouth: When the saliva flow in your mouth is reduced (this is a pathological condition where the salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva due to their malfunctioning), this could open up a plethora of problems. Saliva is responsible for keeping your mouth at a neutral PH, so that the bacteria’s acids don’t affect the teeth, and also facilitates swallowing and speech, so you can imagine that absence of saliva is a big problem. Some Mouthwashes can treat dry mouth by activating salivary glands to pump more saliva, others are considered as replacements ( or artificial saliva) just until the main reason for the dryness is resolved.
This all is well and good, so why doesn’t everybody use mouthwash all the time?
That is the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
If mouthwashes carry all these benefits, why not use them as part of the daily oral hygiene routine? Is mouthwash bad somehow, could it be harmful to my teeth and mouth?
The answer is simply: because nothing is good all around, and everything has its drawbacks, even mouthwashes.
Chlorohexidine – while very potent in fighting gum disease- is a brown-colored chemical, and could use staining of the teeth and tongue if used for more than the designated treatment period.
Fluoride -which is very powerful in reducing sensitivity and fighting tooth decay – is quite toxic in high doses, which is why our main advice is not to swallow it, especially for children.
But the main drawback of mouthwash is an ingredient that is present in most types and brands, and that is ALCOHOL
Alcohol is a part of the mouthwash recipe because it was thought to be a powerful antiseptic and bacteria killer, after all, that is one of the main ingredients in hospital disinfectants;
However, it was proved later through a series of studies approved by the American Dental Association that the amount of alcohol in most mouthwashes ( which is around 25%) is simply not enough to fight and kill bacteria, and a concentration of around 90 % is needed to do so.
On the other hand, Alcohol is very harmful to the gums and mucus membrane inside your mouth, and it is the reason that your gum line and your tongue burns after using mouthwash.
In addition, it is theoretically possible to fail a Breathalyzer test when you have used alcohol-containing mouthwash for so long.
For these reasons and more, most manufacturers opt for manufacturing alcohol-free mouthwashes, while still having the same active ingredients to fight various conditions.
That being said, if you’re still wondering if mouthwash is necessary, our answer to you is a resounding YES, but under careful supervision from your dentist or hygienist.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you really need mouthwash?
You cannot hope to resolve some condition of the mouth without their help, such as sensitivity and gum inflammation.
Do dentists recommend mouthwash?
Absolutely, if for nothing than having a fresh breath and a clean feeling in your mouth.
Is alcohol necessary in mouthwash?
At first it was thought to be a powerful antiseptic, killing bacteria and reducing plaque as well as minimizing decay, but studies have shown that its harm outweighs its benefits, and most manufacturers are steering clear of alcohol in their mouthwashes
What is the best mouthwash?
That really depends on the situation that needs fixing.
You have to select the mouthwash with the active ingredient suitable to treat you case. Ask your dentist or hygienist for their advice.