Young woman using a mouthwash

How Does Mouthwash Work?

There are so many mouthwash options available these days, so it can be overwhelming to choose one! What are the differences between the types of mouthwash? How does mouthwash work? Adding mouthwash to your oral care routine can give you fresh breath, help with teeth whitening, and reduce plaque and gum disease. Read on to learn more about the benefits of mouthwash, the different types, and how to choose the right mouthwash for you.

Types of Mouthwash

First, you should know the two categories of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic. Cosmetic mouthwashes are ideal for freshening breath and making your mouth feel clean. Cosmetic rinses eliminate odour, but they are not designed to get rid of bacteria or reduce plaque.

Therapeutic mouthwash is different. Not only does therapeutic mouthwash come in flavours that can give you fresh breath, but it has ingredients that can help reduce plaque and help prevent gingivitis, gum disease and cavities. Some therapeutic mouthwash has antimicrobial and anti-tartar ingredients. These mouthwashes can be purchased over the counter or prescribed by your dentist.

The Benefits of Mouthwash

You may have heard that mouthwash is good for your dental health, but you may be wondering what mouthwash does precisely. There are many potential benefits of mouthwash, but these benefits are determined the ingredients and how you're using the product. Depending on the type of mouthwash, some of the benefits of mouthwash include:

  • Freshening breath
  • Reducing plaque and/or gum disease
  • Teeth whitening
  • Providing the mouth with antimicrobial benefits
  • Soothing dry mouth
  • Providing fluoride to strengthen the enamel of teeth

So, how does mouthwash work? Therapeutic mouthwash contains active ingredients for specific uses. These therapeutic mouthwashes can fight bacteria that cause bad breath or gum disease, contain fluoride that protects your teeth, provide antimicrobial qualities to keep the mouth clean and fresh, healthier, and soothe dry-mouth effects.

There are mouthwashes designed to help remove surface stains and whiten teeth. Surface stains can be caused by highly pigmented or acidic foods like coffee, red wine, and tomato sauce. These whitening mouthwashes help reduce those surface stains and provide a barrier between your teeth and staining foods.

Therapeutic mouthwash can also help soothe dry mouth by moistening the gums, teeth, and oral tissues. Consult with your dentist or dental hygienist to determine the cause of your dry mouth. They may recommend a mouthwash designed for people with dry mouth or any other issue.

How to Choose a Mouthwash

Try to choose a mouthwash designed to help you with your dental health needs. If you're merely concerned about bad breath, a cosmetic mouthwash with a flavour you enjoy will be easy enough to find. If you want to fight off bacteria, look for words on the bottles like anti-plaque, anti-gingivitis, antibacterial or antimicrobial. Look for an alcohol-free mouthwash – formulas that contain alcohol have been proven to dry out the mouth and kill off the good bacteria that live in your mouth. 

If you need to choose a mouthwash for your children, adult products may not be suitable. Some adult mouthwashes have more active ingredients than children need. Children especially may not enjoy the flavour or the burning sensation of some adult mouthwashes. Speak to your dentist or dental hygienist for recommendations. Choose an alcohol-free mouthwash that your child enjoys using and demonstrate how to rinse correctly so they don't accidentally swallow it.

Tips for Using Mouthwash

Using mouthwash isn't a replacement for brushing and flossing your teeth. But if you're an expert at brushing and flossing and want to add mouthwash to your daily oral care routine, follow these tips:

  • Pour the recommended amount of mouthwash into the cup provided.
  • Swish the mouthwash around your mouth for around 30 seconds.
  • Don't use mouthwash right after brushing, this will avoid washing away the fluoride from your toothpaste.
  • Instead, use mouthwash to freshen your breath at a different time of the day, such as after lunch.
  • When in doubt, ask your dental hygienist or dentist for advice.

Will Mouthwash Cure Halitosis?

The best way to cure halitosis or chronic bad breath is to have a thorough oral care routine. Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to bad breath as advised by the NHS:


  • Gently brush your teeth and gums twice a day for two minutes.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Clean your tongue once a day using a tongue scraper.
  • Clean between your teeth once a day using dental floss or interdental brushes.
  • Visit your dentist for regular check-ups and cleaning. 
  • Keep dentures and retainers clean.
  • Chew sugar-free gum or mints after eating.
  • Try an antibacterial toothpaste or mouthwash.


  • Smoke or use other tobacco products.
  • Rinse your mouth with water straight after brushing your teeth.
  • Eat lots of sugary foods and drinks.
  • Brush your teeth so hard your gums or tongue bleed.

If you’ve tried all of these things and still suffer from bad breath, make an appointment with your dentist in case there’s an underlying issue.


When Mouthwash isn't Enough

If using mouthwash according to directions isn't helping your dental health issues, make an appointment to speak to a professional. Your dentist may recommend another product, or it may be a sign that you need further treatment. Chronic bad breath can be a sign of infection, tooth decay or gum disease. If teeth whitening mouthwashes are not satisfactory, your dental professional can recommend another product or procedure.

Mouthwash isn't complicated, but it can be overwhelming when faced with dozens of options! Always try to consider your most significant dental health needs. And when in doubt, talk to your dentist or dental hygienist about the best ways to have fresh breath.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.