I have had a number of questions of late regarding mouthrinses, when to use them and what type to use. Here’s my take on mouthrinses:
Mouthrinses are used for a variety of reasons: to freshen breath, to help prevent or control tooth decay, to reduce plaque, to prevent or reduce gingivitis, to reduce the speed that tartar forms on the teeth, or to produce a combination of these effects. Most mouthrinses are available without a prescription.
What ingredients are commonly found in mouthrinse?
Basic ingredients include water, alcohol, cleansing agents, flavoring ingredients and coloring agents. Active ingredients vary depending on the type of mouthrinse, but they can be placed into four general groups:
- Antimicrobial agents act directly on oral bacteria to help reduce plaque, decrease the severity of gingivitis and control bad breath.
- Fluoride helps reduce tiny lesions (tooth decay) on tooth enamel and make teeth more resistant to decay.
- Astringent salts can serve as temporary deodorizers that mask bad breath.
- Odor neutralizers act by chemically inactivating odor causing compounds.
What’s the difference between cosmetic and therapeutic?
Cosmetic mouthrinses may temporarily control or reduce bad breath and leave the mouth with a pleasant taste. But they don’t deal with the causes of bad breath. They don’t kill the bacteria that cause bad breath or chemically inactivate odor causing compounds. Also, none of the cosmetic mouthrinses helps reduce plaque, gingivitis or cavities.
Therapeutic mouthrinses, on the other hand, can help reduce plaque, gingivitis, cavities and bad breath. Some fight the bacteria present in plaque, a sticky film that forms on teeth and gums. Plaque bacteria create toxins that can damage the gums. Plaque that is not removed with daily brushing and flossing can cause gingivitis, an early stage of gum disease. If plaque is allowed to continue to accumulate, gingivitis can progress to advanced gum disease, called periodontitis, which only a dentist can treat. Plaque can also turn into tartar (or calculus), a hard substance that can only be removed during a professional cleaning. Some therapeutic mouthwashes contain agents that either fight bad breath bacteria or that chemically inactivate odor causing compounds. Some therapeutic mouthrinses that contain fluoride help prevent or reduce tooth decay.
Do I need a mouthrinse?
We can advise you whether you need a mouthrinse depending on your oral health needs. Rinsing helps remove debris from the mouth. It can be done before or after brushing, but it is not a substitute for brushing or flossing. You may consider using a mouthrinse with fluoride or antimicrobial agents as part of your daily oral hygiene routine.
If you have difficulty brushing and flossing, a mouthrinse may provide additional protection against cavities and periodontal (gum) disease. Anti-cavity rinses with fluoride help protect tooth enamel.