Many people use mouthwash as an integral part of their oral hygiene regime – sold on the marketed concept that the minty concoction can effectively kill germs and slake halitosis, perhaps even more so than brushing the way some ads read.
Mouthwash is marketed as a highly effective product for warding off harmful bacteria responsible for gum disease and decay. But does the use of mouthwash benefit overall oral hygiene the way it’s advertised to?
There have been some indications that mouthwash, when used incorrectly, can actually reduce the benefits of toothpaste – as many take a swig of mouthwash after brushing, potentially influencing fluoride retention.
However, the primary problem with the product is some people think they can swill mouthwash rather than clean plaque from their teeth properly.
If you are a little fuzzy on what plaque is, dental plaque is a sticky biofilm that develops naturally on the teeth and can progressively mineralize into a yellow tartar build up. Like any biofilm, dental plaque is formed by colonizing bacteria trying to attach themselves to the tooth's smooth surface. Once established, it is difficult to remove.
This unpleasant growth, coating the teeth and tongue is also responsible for rancid breath, and, if left to germinate, can lead to gum disease and tooth decay. Therefore, dentists recommend people brush and floss regularly, at least twice a day. Additionally, brushing or scraping one’s tongue can significantly improve overall oral health as you are physically agitating the bacteria and removing it.
A study in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry found rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash twice a day reduced the build-up of plaque and reduced gingivitis over six months. Therefore, there is some evidence that using mouthwash does have some clinical benefit in reducing levels of plaque/bacteria but only by a bit.
Mouthwash can only temporarily improve bad breath as brushing and flossing are the most effective methods of reducing oral bacteria, physically removing sticky plaque versus trying to dissolve or rinse off some of it. Research also published in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry states using an electric brush is far more superior at eliminating plaque versus the traditional manual method, especially for children.
The takeaway: Mouthwash is not a substitute for other methods of oral care. Although it has shown some benefit, clinicians recommend doing your research and talking with your oral care provider about possible chemical interactions between toothpastes and rinses. In order to maintain optimal oral health people should do what they can to thoroughly eliminate colonizing bacteria – redundant, I know – by brushing, flossing, and consider investing in a tongue scraper.
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