National Fresh Breath Day: Is Traditional Mouthwash Good For You?


Today is National Fresh Breath Day, and with nearly 200 million Americans using oral rinse to keep their breath fresh, clean, and SEXY we’re taking a deeper look at mouthwash. Oral rinses are available worldwide with active ingredients to help prevent gum disease and freshen breath. Many types of mouthwash will claim to have clear benefits to your oral health — but are those claims backed up by science? Is traditional mouthwash actually good for you? Let's get up close and personal with the benefits (and surprising side effects) of mouthwash with Dr. Nora Kweik.

While mouthwash can be a helpful addition to your oral care regimen, it should not be a substitute for brushing and flossing twice a day. Using traditional mouthwash will leave your mouth feeling clean, but depending on the type of mouthwash you are using, the “fresh breath” feeling doesn’t mean that your mouth is actually clean.

There are two main types of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic. Cosmetic mouthwash is a mouth rinse solely committed to cosmetic purposes like whitening teeth or freshening breath temporarily (the ingredients in cosmetic mouth rinses do not kill bacteria and provide only cosmetic benefits). Therapeutic mouthwash has active ingredients that kill bacteria. Dentists will prescribe a therapeutic mouth rinse to treat and address clinical issues such as alveolar osteitis (dry socket), oral malodor (bad breath), topical pain relief (mouth rinse containing topical anesthetics), and to reduce plaque and prevent gingivitis (a common, mild form of gum disease).

When combined with daily flossing and brushing, a dentist-recommended therapeutic mouth rinse can have great benefits to your oral health. However, mouthwash can have some drawbacks that users should be aware of. The Effect on the Oral Microbiome

The Effect on the Oral Microbiome

The oral microbiome is made up of microorganisms (predominantly bacteria) in the mouth. Your mouth is full of bacteria, which includes good bacteria that help to break down food and protect your teeth and gums. These good bacteria can also provide protection against the bad bacteria that can cause gingivitis.

But antibacterial mouthwash doesn’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria. This means that by over-using traditional mouthwash, you could lose valuable good bacteria — giving the bad bacteria an opportunity to cause oral infection. Killing off all the bacteria in your mouth too often will decrease the health of your oral microbiome, so use care when using an oral rinse by looking for natural solutions (swishing water vs. harsh mouth rinse) or by using a therapeutic mouthwash directed by your dentist.

Avoid Alcohol-Based Mouthwash

While alcohol-based mouth rinse can leave your mouth feeling fresh and clean, using them too regularly can come with some risks. Because alcohol-based mouthwashes tend to dry out your mouth, they can worsen dry mouth symptoms or cause mouth ulcers. Xerostomia is a dry mouth condition caused by a reduction in the amount of saliva in the oral mucous membranes. Since a lack of saliva increases the risk of xerostomia, dentists may recommend a fluoride-based mouthwash to help manage symptoms.

Alcohol-based mouthwash can also make your teeth more prone to staining due to the active ingredients of ethanol removing the shield of mucous and saliva that protect your teeth. Over time, this can lead to more plaque building on your teeth, causing decay and bad breath (the opposite effect of what users want!). When the side effects of adverse oral health and bad breath are unknowingly caused by using too much or the wrong kind of mouthwash, it can lead individuals to use more mouthwash, only exacerbating a negative cycle. A good dentist or hygienist will be able to spot these types of issues at your 6-month cleaning and can help you find alternative therapeutic mouthwash solutions.

Mouthwash Containing Harmful Ingredients|Mouthwash Ingredients to Avoid

While traditional mouthwash might look great on the store shelf, the dyes and coloring that give well-known mouthwash the bright, fresh colors we’re used to seeing can actually be harmful to your health. The dye Green 3, for example, has been openly linked to bladder cancer. Other research has found a connection between traditional oral rinses and cancer, though more research needs to be done in this area.

Is Mouthwash Good for You?

Though there is good reason to have speculation when it comes to traditional oral rinse, there are some real health benefits to using a therapeutic mouthwash such as freshening breath, removing food debris, providing cavity protection, reducing tooth sensitivity, fighting gum disease, and lowering the risk of gingivitis. However, users should be aware of the downsides to mouthwash as well (such as destroying the good bacteria in your mouth and the increase of potential risks associated with synthetic chemicals in certain brands of mouthwashes) and are encouraged to use them with care. *Note: Mouthwash is not recommended for children under the age of 6 (unless directed by a dentist).

Mouthwash can be a helpful addition to your oral care regimen but is not a substitute for thorough brushing and flossing twice a day. Be sure to use prescription mouthwash as directed by your dentist. If you are looking for a good over-the-counter mouthwash, look for one with an American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance and one without dyes. Talk with your dentist about your specific needs and ask what mouthwash they recommend to keep your breath fresh and your teeth healthy. Our MINT dentistry team is here and happy to help. Book your appointment today!

- Dr. Nora Kweik

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.