a young woman with ponytail using mouthwash at home

How Does Mouthwash Work? Answering your mouthwash questions

There are many mouthwash options available at the store, and making a choice may feel overwhelming. What are the differences between the different types of mouthwash? What kind of mouthwash do I need? Adding mouthwash to your oral care routine can freshen breath, help with teeth whitening, and reduce plaque formation in your mouth. Learn about the benefits of mouthwash, the various types available, and how to choose the right mouthwash for you.

Types of Mouthwash

First, you should know the two main categories of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic. Cosmetic mouthwashes are ideal for freshening breath and making you feel sparkling clean. While cosmetic rinses help prevent odour, they are not designed to get rid of germs or reduce plaque.

Therapeutic mouthwashes are different: not only do they come in flavours that freshen breath, but they also have ingredients that can help reduce plaque and prevent gum problems and cavities. Some therapeutic mouthwashes can have 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 oral health, but perhaps you are wondering what exactly a mouthwash does. It has many potential benefits, but these benefits depend on the ingredients and how you're using it. Depending on the type of mouthwash, the benefits include:

  • Freshening breath
  • Reducing plaque and/or gum problems
  • Teeth whitening
  • Providing antimicrobial benefits to the mouth
  • Soothing dry mouth
  • Providing fluoride to help strengthen tooth enamel

So, how does mouthwash work? Therapeutic mouthwashes have active ingredients for specific uses. These therapeutic mouthwashes can help prevent the germs that cause bad breath or gum problems, while also providing fluoride, antimicrobial qualities to help keep the mouth clean, fresh and healthy, and help soothe dry-mouth effects.

Some mouthwashes are 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.

Some therapeutic mouthwashes can help soothe dry mouth by moistening the gums, teeth, and oral tissues. Fluoride mouthwashes can help strengthen tooth enamel. 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

It will help if you choose a mouthwash designed to help you with your oral care 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 help prevent germs, look for words on the bottles like anti-plaque, help prevent gum problems, or help protect against germs. You can also ask your dentist for a recommendation that will guide you to the right choice of mouthwash.

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 burning sensation of the antiseptic alcohol in some adult mouthwashes. Speak to your dentist or dental hygienist for recommendations. Choose a mouthwash that your child enjoys using and demonstrate how to rinse correctly so they don't accidentally swallow it.

There are so many types of mouthwash available, so you can find a product that suits your needs.

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:

  • Follow manufacturer label for directions
  • If the manufacturer does not specify, rinse before or after brushing, according to your preference
  • Fluoride mouthwashes should be used only once per day
  • Cosmetic mouthwashes can be used multiple times a day
  • When in doubt, ask your dental hygienist
  • Do not eat or rinse for 30 minutes after rinsing with the mouthwash

When Mouthwash isn't Enough

If using mouthwash according to the directions isn't helping your oral hygiene issues, speak to a dental 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 or tooth cavities. 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. Consider your most significant oral care needs. And when in doubt, talk to your dentist or dental hygienist.