Many people use a mouthwash to help make their breath fresher but do not necessarily make the connection between the ingredients in the mouthwash and their possible effect, good or bad, on their teeth. So what effect does mouthwash really have on teeth and should it be part of everyone’s arsenal to help keep their teeth in good shape together with regular brushing, flossing and visits to the dentist?
Not every mouthwash is the same
The next time you are in a pharmacy or supermarket, check out the ingredients mentioned on the bottle or packet of mouthwash, especially the percentages of things like alcohol. The reality is that some mouthwashes are better than others as far as oral health is concerned. The jury is still out on some of the possible dangers of mouthwashes, but again, not all mouthwashes are as potentially bad as some others.
How mouthwashes can help your teeth
Any fluoride in the mouthwash will help to improve the chances of preventing cavities in your teeth. This is exactly the same as fluoridated tap water and fluoridated toothpaste. If you are getting extra doses of fluoride from these two sources anyway, there is no necessity to use a fluoridated mouthwash as well just to toughen up your teeth.
Any alcohol in the mouthwash or a mild antiseptic additive like chlorhexidine acts as an anti bacterial agent and will help to reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth, especially bacteria that collect in the plaque. As an accumulation of plaque can help to cause tooth decay as well as gum disease, using a mouthwash can help prevent both these two problems from occurring.
For pregnant women, mouthwashes may have some value in preventing early labour contractions, although the connection is a little more tenuous. There is some evidence that periodontal disease (gum disease) can introduce bacteria into a mother’s bloodstream that can then lead to premature birth contractions and an early birth. Mouthwashes have been shown by at least one research study to reduce the incidence of early births.
Canker sores in the mouth may be eased by using a mouthwash, even a salt water mouthwash due to a reduction of bacteria around the sores.
How mouthwashes can be harmful or ineffective
If you use a mouthwash to mask the smell from rotting teeth or gums (bad breath), it doesn’t actually cure the reason why your teeth or gums smell. For that, you will need to visit the dentist and find out what is wrong. It may be cavities or gingivitis. Both are treatable.
A mouthwash with excessive alcohol in it may be actually bad for your mouth. If you do have canker sores, for instance, the alcohol may actually exacerbate them and cause more pain than not using the mouthwash at all.
There have been anecdotal reports that some mouthwashes, especially those that have high alcohol percentages, can cause oral cancer. This has never been definitively proved and it may be that, like many cancers, the cancer that has been noted was actually caused by a combination of factors, yet to be definitively identified.
Talk to your dentist about the best choice of mouthwash
The next time you visit your dentist, bring up the subject of mouthwashes and ask whether the dentist can suggest a good brand and how it might be used to enhance your oral health. It’s very likely that your dentist will tell you not to use a mouthwash as a substitute for the proven value of regular brushing and flossing together with regular preventative visits to the dentist.