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Antiseptic vs. Antibacterial Mouthwash: What's the Difference?

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Take a stroll down the oral care aisle at your local supermarket or drugstore and you might find your head spinning over the wide variety of mouthwashes and other oral care products available. Each one is labelled slightly differently, promising different benefits such as "cavity-fighting,""antibacterial,""antiseptic,""breath-freshening" and so on. But when it comes to choosing a product, is there really a difference between antiseptic vs. antibacterial mouthwash? And how can you tell which one is right for your needs?

Antimicrobial vs. Antiseptic vs. Antibacterial Mouthwash

When you see "antimicrobial," "antibacterial" or "antiseptic" on the label of a bottle of mouthwash, it's important to understand that those words aren't just there to impress you. They do have particular meanings.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines antimicrobial products as those that are designed to kill or inactivate various kinds of microbes, which include fungi, bacteria, parasites and viruses. Antibacterial agents (also known as antibiotics) kill, slow down or inactivate bacteria specifically.

BYJU'S notes that antibacterial drugs are used to inhibit the pathogenic activity of bacteria is called as antibacterial drugs, while antibiotics are the substances which are derived from one microorganism in order to kill another microorganism. According to the Indian Dental Association, antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight bacterial infections. Used properly, antibiotics can save lives. Antibiotics belong to the group of antimicrobial compounds used to treat infections caused by micro-organisms including fungi and protozoa. Antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses.

In contrast, BYJU'S notes that antiseptics can be defined as antimicrobial agents which can be applied on the body of living organisms to inhibit the action of microbes. They are not injected into the body like the antibiotics, rather they are applied on the surface of the skin to heal the living tissues in case of wounds and cuts. While antibacterial products only target bacteria, antiseptic and antimicrobial agents can work against various types of microbes.

So when it comes to antiseptic vs. antibacterial mouthwash, the former covers a broad spectrum of organisms, while the latter covers specific ones. If you see antimicrobial, antibacterial or antiseptic listed on a bottle of mouthwash, you can be confident that the rinse is designed to inhibit microbes that could be harmful to your oral health.

How Do You Choose?

With so many mouthwash options out there, how can you choose the one that is right for you? It's helpful to talk to your dentist about using mouthwash if you are feeling any confusion. They can recommend a suitable mouthwash for your particular concerns, whether it's gum disease, dry mouth or bad breath. In some cases, a prescription mouthwash with antimicrobial properties might be your best option.

According to the Indian Dental Association, Triclosan and Chlorhexidine have been widely used in recent mouthwashes. Triclosan delays plaque maturation and inhibits the formation of prostaglandin leukotrienes which is a key controller of inflammation. Chlorhexidine acts against plaque and bacteria.

According to a research study published in the Indian Journal of Dental Research, Chlorhexidine has emerged as an important oral antibacterial agent and adjunct to periodontal therapy. It is a broad-spectrum antiseptic with pronounced antimicrobial effects on Gram-positive as well as Gram-negative bacteria, some viruses and fungi.

If you aren't as concerned with preventing gum disease, you may still benefit from using mouthwash. The Indian Dental Association points out that Mouthwash is used in rinsing the mouth. It functions in eliminating bacteria or food particles from areas beyond the reach of a toothbrush and floss. Many people use a mouthwash as part of their daily oral health routine usually to help freshen breath. Some mouthwashes contain an anti-bacterial agent which reduces gum disease and controls plaque.

If you have a particular concern, such as reducing plaque, fighting cavities or general breath-freshening, ask your dentist for advice on which product may help you achieve your goals. The Indian Dental Association suggests to look for the IDA seal of approval when you are recommended a new toothpaste as the seal assures that the toothpaste meets the standards set by the Indian Dental Association.

Tips for Using Any Type of Mouthwash

Whether you end up getting a prescription for a mouthwash from your dentist or using an over-the-counter product labelled "antiseptic" or "antibacterial," there are some things to remember when using it. Mouthwash isn't designed to replace brushing and flossing, so be sure to continue to brush your teeth twice a day and floss once daily.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy site, the question of whether to rinse before or after brushing may depend on personal preference; however, to maximise benefit from the oral care products used, manufacturers may recommend a specific order for their use, depending on ingredients. Another thing to remember is to follow the instructions listed on the mouthwash bottle or given by your dentist. You'll see the greatest benefit if you use the mouthwash, whatever type it is, exactly as directed.

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.