There are varieties of mouthwashes to choose from when you visit a supermarket or community pharmacy, so figuring out which one is best for you can be challenging. Some people use a mouthwash to keep a fresh breath after eating ‘notorious’ meals and others use it before going on dates to impress their partners. However, are we using mouthwashes correctly in terms of dose, frequency, and time in the mouth? While to some it can be as simple as choosing a favorite flavour, there can be more to mouthwashes than meets the eye.


A mouthwash, also known as an oral rinse or mouth rinse, is simply defined as a solution used to rinse the mouth. Mouthwash was first mass-produced commercially in the late 1800s. It has had its fair share of controversy with many believing it has absolutely no benefits whatsoever. However, research has revealed that mouthwash is an adjunct to a daily oral hygiene routine, and brushing and flossing should not be substituted. It is also worth knowing that saliva is our mouth’s natural mouthwash that helps to fight bacteria that causes tooth decay and bad breath.


A good starting point when choosing your mouthwash is to check its active ingredients. The common active ingredients of mouthwash are chlorhexidine, essential oils, cetylpyridinium chloride, fluoride, and carbamide peroxide. Chlorhexidine gluconate and cetylpyridinium chloride are essential components in mouthwashes that aid to reduce harmful germs in the mouth and controlling gum disease. Fluoride, on the other hand, helps to fight tooth decay by strengthening your teeth. Essential oils have antifungal and antibacterial properties. Carbamide peroxide is an ingredient added to certain mouthwashes at very low concentrations to slightly whiten the teeth.


It is important to remember that since the ingredients in each mouthwash formula vary slightly, different products work for different purposes. In view of that, mouthwashes can be grouped into cosmetic and therapeutic types. Cosmetic mouthwashes temporarily mask bad breath and provide a pleasing flavor, whereas therapeutic mouthwashes control certain oral conditions.


Direction for use of every mouthwash is clearly written on its label. It is essential to always read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before use. Generally, children under 6 years should not use a mouthwash due to their tendency to accidentally swallow the mouthwash. A mouthwash works efficiently after one has undertaken proper brushing of the teeth and flossing. The amount to use generally varies between 10ml to 50ml and it should be swished or gargled for 30 seconds to 1 minute and spat out.


Mouthwash should not be used immediately after brushing the teeth so as not to wash away the beneficial fluoride residue left from the toothpaste. It is also not advisable to wash your mouth with water after using a mouthwash either due to the same reason. Other groups of mouthwashes, containing a chemical called chlorhexidine gluconate, can react with one component in toothpaste (sodium lauryl sulphate) thereby rendering the chlorhexidine ineffective as an antibacterial agent. Due to this finding, dentists advise the use of chlorhexidine-containing mouthwashes approximately 30 minutes after brushing. A mouthwash containing 0.2% chlorhexidine can also temporarily stain the teeth, discolor the tongue and alter taste when used for a long term.


As part of coronavirus precautionary measures in many dental clinics now, your dentist will let you rinse your mouth with a mouthwash (diluted hydrogen peroxide) before undertaking any aerosol-generating procedure in your mouth. This is because recent literature has revealed that a concentration of 1% hydrogen peroxide or 0.2% povidine can reduce the salivary load of oral microbes such as the novel coronavirus.


In conclusion, a mouthwash becomes a necessity if it is being used correctly per your dentist’s expert advice and it becomes a luxury if it is solely being used for cosmetic purposes. If you happen to have chronic bad breath or persistent gum disease, the use of a mouthwash alone will not be able to treat the underlying causes. Consequently, you should always speak to your dentist about any concerns you have, rather than dousing your mouth with mouthwash at the least opportunity. Also, if you start experiencing any side effects from any particular mouthwash, consult your dentist immediately. For instance, if one already suffers from a dry mouth, using a mouthwash that contains alcohol will further dry the mouth leading to bad breath and sores in the mouth.



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