Bathroom Sink

Mouthwash seems like an unequivocally good thing. Of course, washing your mouth should make it cleaner, and cleaner is healthier, right? Well, the human body is a complex thing and anything we do to it can have unintended effects. Mouthwash is one of these things. So, is mouthwash good or bad for your oral health?


Short answer: it’s not great.


What’s wrong with mouthwash?

Most mouthwashes on the market (e.g., Listerine ®) contain alcohol. Alcohol dries out your mouth, which means that while mouthwash might leave your breath minty fresh in the short term, in the long run it will exacerbate bad breath. A dry mouth can also cause gum irritation, cracked lips, and can increase the risk of tooth decay, in addition to causing bad breath and the uncomfortable feeling of a dry mouth.

There is a lot of bacteria in the human mouth, and the alcohol in mouthwash does kill it… all of it, including the good bacteria. Just like the stomach, the mouth has good bacteria that keep the bad bacteria in check. If you kill it all off with mouthwash, the bad bacteria might make a rebound faster than good bacteria, which can lead to tooth decay, bad breath, and those other issues mentioned above.

Additionally, some people treat mouthwash like a simple, easy way to avoid the more tedious tasks of maintaining good dental hygiene, such as brushing and flossing. But mouthwash is no substitute for either. Not all mouthwashes contain the enamel-strengthening and stain-fighting ingredients that toothpastes do, and just the physical action of the toothbrush on the teeth removes a lot of food particles and plaque. Flossing too is necessary; mouthwash can’t get between your teeth and gums to remove plaque.


What are the alternatives?

Like we said before, there’s no substitute for plain ol’ good oral hygiene: regular brushing and flossing. But if you’re in a situation where you can’t brush your teeth, but need fresh breath, one option is to chew some xylitol gum. Xylitol is a sweetener that’s a sugar alcohol, not a sugar, so it won’t affect your mouth in the way sugar would (feeding the bad mouth bacteria which cause tooth decay and cavities).

An important caveat here is that there are some mouthwashes that are good for you—those that your dentist prescribes or recommends. After oral surgeries, for instance, your dentist may prescribe a mouth rinse to clean the affected area. There are also certain mouth rinses uses for patients with open sores in the mouth caused by devices like braces, which serve to bandage the wound or numb the pain. If your dentist prescribes any such mouthwash to you, you should follow your dentist’s instructions for using it.


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