Keeping your smile looking its best, your breath fresh and your teeth and gums healthy are responsibilities you probably don’t take lightly. After all, good oral health confers so many benefits, both socially and to your overall health, we’d be hard-pressed to list them all. Regular brushing, flossing and, of course, visits to your dentist all play a part in keeping your mouth healthy and beautiful, but there’s one unsung hero of the oral health world that’s often overlooked: mouthwash.
With so many options to choose from, each boasting about a new benefit or feature, it can be tough to separate fact from advertising fiction. Here are five need-to-know facts about this small but powerful part of your everyday dental health routine:
1. There are really only two main types of mouthwash.
Despite shelves upon shelves of products claiming to do this or that, there are really only two main categories of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic. Cosmetic mouthwashes are the ones that claim to freshen your breath. They’ll also sometimes boast teeth whitening ingredients to give your smile a temporary boost.
Therapeutic mouthwashes, on the other hand, are the ones that really give you a hand in living your best life. Some are available over the counter, others are prescription only. These mouthwashes actually work to reduce the number of bacteria in your mouth, providing major backup in knocking out the underlying causes of bad breath. Therapeutic formulations can also help strengthen your teeth or reduce sensitivity.
2. Alcohol-based mouthwashes can sometimes do more harm than good.
Alcohol-based mouthwashes can be problematic for all the same reasons your esthetician steers you away from moisturizers with alcohol as a main ingredient or your hairdresser recommends luxe shampoos: it’s drying. While alcohol-based mouthwashes can temporarily mask bad breath, they do nothing to stop it before it starts.
If you’re doing your best to combat bad breath, the last thing you need to do is pile on products that dry out your mouth since a dry mouth can contribute to the formation of bacteria that cause halitosis. Opt for an alcohol-free mouthwash or speak to your dentist about other options that may be right for you.
3. Mouthwash is not essential — but it helps.
Despite what mouthwash manufacturers would have you believe, mouthwash is not necessarily vital to keeping your pearly whites healthy, so if you miss a day here and there, the world (and your teeth!) won’t crumble.
Proper brushing, flossing and regular dental visits are what work magic for your oral health. Mouthwash is merely a finishing touch. On its own, it’s not going to remove the plaque that causes tooth decay or reduce the bacteria that lead to less-than-fresh breath. Instead, mouthwash can help rinse out the plaque, bacteria and bits of food and debris that are still lurking in cracks and crevices after brushing and flossing.
The exception? Therapeutic mouthwashes recommended by your dentist to help with a specific concern: a rinse to prevent dry socket after heavy-duty dental work, for example.
4. Time matters just as much as ingredients do.
If your idea of using mouthwash is to swish and spit, you’re not getting the full benefit of a thorough rinse. Contact time — the amount of time mouthwash sits in your mouth — is just as vital to its usefulness as the proper ingredient list.
Think about the other useful products in your life that work to reduce bacteria, whiten surfaces and freshen things up — laundry bleach, for example, or your favorite household cleaner. They don’t work instantly to accomplish their purpose. Neither does mouthwash. They need time to work their magic.
Instead of a quick rinse, opt to swish mouthwash for about 30 seconds, unless otherwise directed by your dentist. This is usually enough time for the active ingredients in therapeutic mouthwashes to do what they should, and the swishing action helps remove the last vestiges of whatever was knocked loose by your brushing and flossing.
5. Mouthwash isn’t always harmless — especially for kids and pets.
Mouthwash isn’t without its hazards, especially for small children and pets who may be tempted to drink or swallow it. Keep your mouthwash out of reach of pets and supervise children when they’re using it. Alcohol-based mouthwashes can cause accidental intoxication in humans or death in pets. Alcohol-free mouth rinses aren’t much better if ingested; many contain xylitol which can cause an upset stomach in humans or death in pets. Therapeutic mouthwashes contain specific active ingredients to accomplish their purposes — fluoride for cavity prevention, for example — that can cause similar harm.
And don’t think all natural or organic mouthwashes are any less harmful if swallowed or used improperly. Many of these products contain essential oils that can cause irritation, burns or harm when ingested. Just because it’s all natural doesn’t mean it’s safe to swallow — after all, poison ivy is all natural and organic, too!
Get The Inside Scoop on Mouthwash
Although these facts about mouthwash are fascinating and give some insight into this often overlooked dental care product, they don’t really help you make the best choice for your unique needs. To get the inside scoop on which mouthwash is right for you and your family, talk to your dentist.
At the office of Drs. Krieger and Hur, we’re ready to help with your mouthwash choices. We also work hard to make all your cosmetic dentistry easy and convenient, often completing procedures the same day! When your smile needs perfecting, but your time is limited, give us a call at 201-560-0606 or email us here and we’ll get you fast-tracked back to eye-catching confidence.
We heard your selfies could be a lot better, so we wrote a “How to Take a Great Selfie” guide to help you show off our great handywork. It’ll be our little secret! You don’t have to tell anyone that your dentist helped you perfect those iconic social media images.
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