Young woman using a mouthwash

How Does Mouthwash Work? Answering your mouthwash questions

There are many mouthwash options available in shops. It may be overwhelming to choose one. What are the differences between the types of mouthwash? What kind of mouthwash do I need? Adding mouthwash to your oral care routine can freshen breath, help with teeth whitening, and reduce plaque formation in your mouth. Learn about mouthwash's benefits, the different types, and how to choose the right mouthwash for you.

Types of Mouthwash

First, you should know the two categories of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic. Cosmetic mouthwashes are ideal for only freshening breath and making you feel sparkling clean. Cosmetic rinses eliminate odour, but they are not designed to get rid of bacteria or reduce plaque.

Therapeutic mouthwashes are different. Not only do therapeutic mouthwashes come in flavours that freshen breath, but they have ingredients that can help reduce plaque and help prevent gingivitis and cavities. Some therapeutic mouthwashes can have antimicrobial and anti-tartar ingredients. These mouthwashes can be purchased over the counter or prescribed by your dentist.

The Benefits of Mouthwash

You may have heard that mouthwash is good for oral health, but you may be wondering what mouthwash does precisely. There are many potential benefits of mouthwash, but these benefits depend on its ingredients and how you're using it. Depending on the type of mouthwash, some of the benefits of mouthwash include:

  • Freshening breath
  • Reducing plaque and/or gingivitis
  • Teeth whitening
  • Providing the mouth with antimicrobial benefits
  • Soothing dry mouth
  • Providing fluoride to strengthen the enamel of teeth

So, how does mouthwash work? Therapeutic mouthwashes have active ingredients for specific uses. These therapeutic mouthwashes can fight bacteria that cause bad breath or gingivitis, provide fluoride, provide antimicrobial qualities to keep the mouth clean and fresh, healthier, and soothe dry-mouth effects.

There are mouthwashes designed to help remove surface stains and whiten teeth. Surface stains can be caused by highly pigmented or acidic foods like coffee, red wine, and tomato sauce. These whitening mouthwashes help reduce those surface stains and provide a barrier between your teeth and staining foods.

Some therapeutic mouthwashes can help soothe dry mouth, too, by moistening the gums, teeth, and oral tissues. Fluoride mouthwashes can strengthen the enamel of the teeth. Consult with your dentist or dental hygienist to determine the cause of your dry mouth. They may recommend a mouthwash designed for people with dry mouth or any other issue.

How to Choose a Mouthwash

It will help if you choose a mouthwash designed to help you with your oral care needs. If you're merely concerned about bad breath, a cosmetic mouthwash with a flavour you enjoy will be easy enough to find. If you want to fight off bacteria, look for words on the bottles like anti-plaque, anti-gingivitis, antibacterial or antimicrobial.

If you need to choose a mouthwash for your children, adult products may not be suitable. Some adult mouthwashes have more active ingredients than children need. Children especially may not enjoy the flavour or the burning sensation of the antiseptic alcohol in some adult mouthwashes. Speak to your dentist or dental hygienist for recommendations. Choose a mouthwash that your child enjoys using and demonstrate how to rinse correctly so they don't accidentally swallow it.

There are so many types of mouthwash available, so you can find a product that suits your needs.

Tips for Using Mouthwash

Using mouthwash isn't a replacement for brushing and flossing your teeth. But if you're an expert at brushing and flossing and want to add mouthwash to your daily oral care routine, follow these tips:

  • Follow the manufacturer's label for directions
  • Don't rinse with a mouthwash right after brushing, so as to avoid washing away the fluoride from your toothpaste
  • When in doubt, ask your dental hygienist, dentist or dental therapist.

When Mouthwash isn't Enough

If using mouthwash according to directions isn't helping your oral hygiene issues, speak to a dental professional. Your dentist may recommend another product, or it may be a sign that you need further treatment. Chronic bad breath can be a sign of infection or tooth decay. If teeth whitening mouthwashes are not satisfactory, your dental professional can recommend another product or procedure.

Mouthwash isn't complicated, but it can be overwhelming when faced with dozens of options. Consider your most significant oral care needs. And when in doubt, talk to your dentist or dental hygienist.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.