If you want to do something healthy for your teeth and gums too, make mouth rinsing part of your daily routine. "Today mouthwashes are not just perfumes for the breath," says Mark Wolff, DDS, PhD, chair of cariology and comprehensive care at New York University College of Dentistry. "They can also reduce gingivitis [gum disease], tooth decay, tartar and plaque, and they can whiten." A mouth rinse won't cure serious problems, though. If you have regular bleeding of your gums or consistently bad breath, for example, see your dentist.
Do I Need to Rinse?
Mouthwash is not a substitute for brushing and flossing. But if you have trouble doing those correctly, rinsing can help protect you from cavities or gum disease. Fluoride rinses help prevent tooth decay.
Read the labels carefully on over-the-counter types. Ingredients -- and the benefits they provide -- vary by brand.
They usually include one or more of these:
Fluoride. It helps reduce tooth decay and prevent cavities.
Antimicrobials. They kill the bacteria that cause bad breath, plaque, and gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums at the early stages of gum disease.
Astringent salt. It's a type of deodorizer that can temporarily cover up bad breath.
Odor neutralizers. They can attack the cause of bad breath.
Whiteners, such as peroxide. They can help against stains on your teeth.
How Do I Choose a Mouthwash?
It's sometimes hard to find one product that ticks all the boxes. Look for products with an American Dental Association (ADA) seal on the label. The group awards it to companies that show scientific proof that their products work. If you prefer organic or natural products, the ADA recognizes some of those mouth rinses, too. You can also find the ADA seal on some generic and store brands.
What's the Best Technique for Mouth Rinsing?
Each product has its own instructions, but here are some tips:
When should I swish with mouthwash? It doesn't matter if you do it before you brush and floss or after.
How long should I swish? Do it for 30 to 60 seconds. Less than half a minute probably won't do much. And more than a minute is more than enough.
When will I see results? Be patient. If your mouthwash promises to whiten teeth or help against bleeding gums, it might take a few weeks to deliver.
"Dental hygienists are prevention experts, and this expertise includes in-depth knowledge of oral health care products. This guide is intended to help you sort through the available mouthrinse options, both therapeutic and cosmetic, so that you can make educated recommendations to patients. We hope you find this guide useful when offering suggestions to patients who wish to improve their daily oral care regimens through the addition of a mouthrinse." —Jill Rethman, RDH, BA