Is Mouthwash Right for You?
If you walk down the dental care aisle of your local supermarket or pharmacy, you'll find a dizzying array of mouthwashes, plaque-removing rinses, fluoride treatments, and similar products. Do you need one?
Most rinses can effectively freshen your mouth and curb bad breath for up to three hours. However, their success in preventing tooth decay, gum inflammation, and periodontal disease is limited. Rinses can't substitute for regular dental examinations and proper home care. Most dentists believe that a regimen of brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing, and getting routine cleanings and exams is sufficient for fighting tooth decay and gum disease. In some cases, though, a rinse may be helpful, and your dentist might recommend using one. If you would like to try a rinse, how do you choose one? It helps to know that mouth rinses fall into two basic categories: cosmetic and therapeutic.
These solutions, commonly called mouthwashes, have a pleasant taste and leave your mouth feeling fresher for a time, but they don't possess any lasting ability to fight tooth decay or gum disease. They are best used as a temporary antidote to bad breath in the same way that showering with deodorant soap can control body odor for a period of time.
These preparations contain medicinal ingredients. The most popular kinds contain fluoride for cavity prevention, and some, such as ACT Fluoride Rinse, have earned the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Dentists sometimes recommend fluoride rinses for people who are prone to cavities.
Other types of over-the-counter therapeutic rinses advertise plaque-fighting benefits. However, only a few, such as Listerine and various store-brand equivalents (often marketed with the words “antiseptic mouth rinse”), carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance for this purpose. Listerine's claims are supported by long-term studies demonstrating that rinsing twice a day with the product (or a generic equivalent) can reduce plaque buildup and gum inflammation by 34 percent.
By far, the most powerful chemical for controlling oral bacteria is a substance called chlorhexidine, which is available only with a prescription from your dentist. It's sold under the brand names of Peridex or PerioGard. Chlorhexidine is most often used before or after oral surgery and for treating periodontal disease. It's also helpful for people who cannot brush effectively—for instance, because of a hand injury. Long-term use of this substance may temporarily stain teeth, but the problem can be corrected with professional cleaning.
Source: Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright © by Harvard University. All rights reserved.