When mouthwash was first invented in the late 1800s by Joseph Lister, it was actually used as a surgical antiseptic. The first mouthwash was made of carbolic acid, which Louis Pasteur’s research suggested could prevent microbial infection. It wasn’t until 1914 that the first alcohol-based mouthwash formula became commercially available for use. Nowadays, as many as 60% of Americans use mouthwash as part of their oral health routine.
However, the use of mouthwash is not listed under the American Dental Association’s oral hygiene suggestions. This raises the question: Should you be using mouthwash? In this blog, we will answer this question by discussing the different types of mouthwash and when they should be used.
What is Mouthwash?
Mouthwash, also commonly referred to as mouth rinse or oral rinse, is a type of liquid designed to be swished around the inside of the mouth before being spit out. This swishing action spreads the rinse throughout the mouth and helps to remove small pieces of food debris.
Mouthwash can be classified into two categories: cosmetic and therapeutic. Cosmetic mouthwashes are used to simply mask the odors that cause bad breath, while therapeutic mouthwashes are used to treat oral health conditions. In fact, therapeutic mouthwashes contain several beneficial ingredients, such as:
- Cetylpyridinium chloride: reduces bad breath
- Chlorhexidine: controls plaque and gingivitis (prescription only)
- Essential oils (eucalyptol, menthol, thymol, methyl salicylate): controls plaque and gingivitis
- Fluoride: strengthens tooth enamel to prevent decay
- Peroxide: used as a whitening agent in whitening mouthwashes
Should YOU Be Using Mouthwash?
Now that you are more familiar with the composition of mouthwash and its ingredients, you may be wondering if using mouthwash suits your oral health needs. In most cases, mouthwash is safe for anyone over the age of 6. It is not recommended for use in children under the age of 6 since swallowing mouthwash can cause nausea, vomiting, or intoxication.
Although anyone can safely use mouthwash, there are a few instances where mouthwash can be highly beneficial to your oral health. For example, to manage certain dental conditions such as:
Dry mouth, more formally known as xerostomia, is an unfortunate problem where not enough saliva is produced by the mouth. Not only can this be uncomfortable, but dry mouth increases the risk of dental problems like tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath. This is because saliva is used to keep the mouth clean and regulate pH. Without enough saliva, the mouth can become acidic, causing more damage to the teeth and gums.
Luckily, there are certain mouthwashes that are designed to treat dry mouth by replicating saliva. These mouthwashes usually contain one or more of the following: fluoride, enzymes, cellulose derivatives, and/or animal mucins. If you have dry mouth, it is also important to avoid mouthwash with alcohol since alcohol can have a drying effect.
Another common dental problem is tooth decay. While using mouthwash cannot treat existing decay, it can help to prevent future tooth decay. Regular mouthwash usage has been seen to reduce the rate of tooth decay, especially in children.
If you have tooth decay, it is important to use a mouthwash that contains fluoride. Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and helps to prevent the development of cavities.
Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that occurs when plaque accumulates along the gum line and irritates the gum tissue. Although gingivitis can be reversed with proper treatment, without treatment it can progress into periodontitis, which is permanent.
If you have gingivitis, it is important to use a mouthwash that contains chlorhexidine or cetylpyridinium. Chlorhexidine is a powerful antimicrobial agent that helps to control plaque and gingivitis, however it is found in prescription-only mouthwashes. Chlorhexidine is highly effective, but can cause staining when used for long periods of time. There are also over-the-counter mouthwashes that contain certain essential oils that can also be beneficial for treating gum disease.
While stained teeth are not necessarily an oral health problem, they can affect the look of your smile. Stains can form on the teeth as a result of colored pigments from certain foods and beverages, medications, smoking, or oral hygiene habits.
If you are self-conscious about your stained teeth, using a whitening mouthwash can help to lighten their appearance. Whitening mouthwashes usually contain peroxide, which is a bleaching agent. Peroxide breaks down the pigments that cause tooth staining, making teeth appear brighter. However, keep in mind that most whitening mouthwashes are more effective at preventing future stains than they are at removing current stains.
In general, mouthwash can be a great way to improve oral health when used in conjunction with proper oral hygiene habits like brushing and flossing. If you have any of the above dental problems, using mouthwash can help to manage them and keep your smile looking its best. Remember to always consult with your dentist if you are experiencing any dental problems or if you have any questions.