Mouthwash is helpful for rinsing away food debris and bacteria after brushing, but it's not an essential part of a good oral hygiene routine. Nonetheless, it doesn’t do any harm either, and might help fight bad breath.
Often our patients say they enjoy rinsing with mouthwash after brushing and flossing, because they feel that the mouthwash is clearing away the loose debris left over after brushing.
This may be true however, rinsing with water after brushing has the same effect.
Mouthwash may be a helpful addition to your oral hygiene routine if you enjoy using it, but it's not a substitute for good oral hygiene! Mouthwash should never take the place of brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and visiting the dentist regularly, but it might help freshen your breath, and it’s mostly harmless.
Perhaps, that mouthwash is mostly harmless comes as a surprise to you if you’ve heard about studies that connect mouthwash use to conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
One example of such a study was published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine. This study found that some mouthwashes could raise blood pressure by wiping out a type of mouth bacteria that helps the body generate nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is known to play a critical role in protecting the cardiovascular system, including keeping blood pressure down.
That said, this study was found to focus specifically on mouthwashes containing a strong antibacterial agent called chlorhexidine. Chlorhexidine is generally available only by prescription. It's also important to note that this study was very small with just 19 participants. Such a small study requires more research in order to support its findings.
Other studies since the 90s have suggested mouthwashes containing alcohol might contribute to the development of some oral cancers. These studies tended to focus on excessive mouthwash use of 3 or more times a day, causing many experts to believe that these studies are flawed. Several review studies have since failed to find links between mouthwashes containing alcohol and cancer.
However, mouthwashes with alcohol in them can dry out your mouth. That means that if you have issues with dry mouth but wish to use mouthwash, you should choose an alcohol-free variety.
A more complicated issue is presented when we look at antiseptic or antibacterial mouth rinses. Only those people with periodontal disease or other harmful types of oral bacteria should use antiseptic or antibacterial varieties of mouthwash. If you believe that these mouthwashes might be right for you, be sure to consult with your dentist before you start using one.
Anyone with a healthy mouth that wants to use mouthwash should be sure to choose a mild mouthwash that doesn't contain alcohol or strong antibacterial agents.
Mouthwash may feel nice and refreshing to use after brushing, but it doesn’t do much other than (possibly) help reduce bad breath. While there appears to be no medical reason not to rinse with mouthwash once or twice a day, if you want to save yourself some money, just rinse with water instead.