mouthwash: yes or no?

You brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day, so you know that you’re doing the right things to keep your teeth and gums healthy. However, you don’t regularly use mouthwash. Should you? Read on for information on how adding mouthwash to your daily routine can make a positive difference in your overall oral health. 

Part of the Routine

It is best to use mouthwash after you’ve brushed and flossed your teeth.  Rinsing your mouth with mouthwash can kill any harmful bacteria that may be left over after brushing and flossing.  Most mouthwashes recommend using 3-5 teaspoons (approximately 20 ml or 2/3 fluid ounces) and gargling for 30 seconds. However, be sure to look at the directions on the bottle before your first use. Once you spit out the mouthwash (remember to never, ever swallow mouthwash), allow it to remain on your teeth and gums without rinsing with water.  It is also a good idea to wait 30 minutes after you use mouthwash before you eat or drink. 

It is important to note that children under 6 shouldn’t use mouthwash unless it is recommended by a dentist. Young children may inadvertently swallow large amounts of the liquid, making the risk much greater than any potential benefit to using mouthwash. 

Tip to remember: If you are brushing with a fluoride toothpaste (which you should be!), wait a few minutes before swishing mouthwash around your mouth. This will make sure that the mouthwash doesn’t wash away the fluoride on your teeth and gums. 

Swish Your Way to Fresh Breath

Most people typically think of mouthwash as a quick and easy way to get rid of bad breath. While this is true, it’s important to understand what causes bad breath and whether there may be more going on in your mouth than just the remnants of the garlic fries you just ate.  Foods and beverages like the previously mentioned garlic, onions, blue cheese, sauerkraut, curry, coffee and alcohol are common offenders when it comes to bad breath.  Smoking also causes bad breath (along with a whole host of well-known health issues).   

Brushing, flossing and using an over-the-counter mouthwash will usually take care of any stinky breath caused by food or drink consumption. However, if you have persistent bad breath, it may be caused by something else.  Sinus infections and indigestion can create temporary unpleasant mouth odors, but if you have persistent halitosis, you may want to talk to your dentist and your doctor to rule out any serious underlying health conditions. 

The Evolution of Mouthwash

The modern day form of mouthwash came about in the 1800s when alcohol was added to mouth rinses to help kill germs and bacteria. In fact, Listerine, one of the most well-known mouthwash brands, was originally invented as an antiseptic for surgical procedures. 

Over the last several decades, mouthwash has become even more advanced and there are many types of mouthwash on the market, from those that are cosmetic (strictly for freshening your breath) to those that can help prevent a wide variety of oral health issues. 

Mouthwash with fluoride has been shown to help in the prevention of gum disease and tooth decay. Fluoride can help rebuild weak tooth enamel and slow down the growth of harmful bacteria on the teeth and gums.  There are also mouthwashes specially formulated to kill the germs that cause plaque and gingivitis, whiten your teeth, decrease tooth and gum sensitivity, and prevent tartar buildup and cavities. 

Mouthwash for More Serious Oral Health Issues

If you suffer from persistent bad breath, it’s a good idea to talk to your dentist about a therapeutic mouth rinse. Chronic bad breath is caused by gas-emitting bacteria on the tongue and below the gum line. These bacteria can cause tooth decay and gum infection.  In conjunction with brushing and flossing, therapeutic mouthwashes can kill these bacteria and get your oral health back on track. 

Your dentist also may prescribe a therapeutic mouthwash if you suffer from dry mouth, mouth sores, chronic sinus or indigestion issues or if you have just had oral surgery. 

The Final Word

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), mouthwash can be a helpful and important part of your oral health care routine, but only if it is used with brushing, flossing and regular dental visits.  And regardless of the type of mouthwash you use, make sure to look for the ADA seal of approval. This seal means that the mouthwash will freshen your breath, as well as help you fight cavities and help prevent gum disease.

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