does mouthwash work

Does Mouthwash Work? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

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Did you know that while mouthwash varieties are known for their antiseptic properties, brands like Listerine have been sold for many other purposes?

In 1879, Listerine entered the market with its first formulation. While we used it as part of our teeth-brushing routines today, it has been sold as a cure for dandruff, a floor cleaner, a surgical disinfectant, a hair tonic, and a deodorant.

Mouthwash was also manufactured and marketed as a “beneficial remedy” for diseases like smallpox, dysentery, and gonorrhea.

But not everything that is manufactured and sold is effective. So the question remains, “Does mouthwash work?”

One thing is for sure. When Dr. Lister became the first surgeon to do an operation in a sterilized chamber by putting antiseptic in the air, mortality rates began to fall.

But does it work for dental health?

Keep reading to find out!

More About the History

When Dr. Lister first created Listerine, it was for the purpose of having an antiseptic to use for bathing wounds and during surgery.

A few years later, Listerine was marketed and sold for the purpose of killing germs in the mouth.

The same source shows us that in 1914, Listerine became the first prescription over the counter product. Six years later, when Listerine was marketed to fight “halitosis,” sales rose significantly.

These days, several well-known brands on the market all claim to do the same things as Listerine:  Fight bad breath, kill germs, and reduce plaque.

But many people still wonder, “If you’re brushing and flossing every night, do you still need to use mouthwash?”

It’s worth looking a little further into…

How Does Mouthwash Work?

Mouthwash often contains germ-killing, plaque-stopping ingredients like fluoride and chlorhexidine. Many formulas help prevent tooth decay because of their antiseptic, plaque-prevention qualities.

When you swish your mouthwash around in your mouth, it leaves a layer of itself all over your teeth. This layer is what fights against harmful bacteria from forming in your mouth and damaging your teeth.

Mouthwash cleans your entire mouth, at least on the surface.  But it’s not a magic substitute to remove sticky plaque. Floss gets in between your teeth and around your gums while brushing cleans your teeth. But mouthwash reaches soft tissue areas of your mouth, including your tongue.

Did you know that your tongue is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to harboring bacteria? Still, mouthwash isn’t going to dislodge bacteria embedded into the textured surface of the tongue.

Mouthwash Is Not a Replacement

While mouthwash does get every area of your mouth, it’s not a replacement for flossing and brushing.

It can’t remove the build-up that settles in between your teeth, the same way that floss does. Plus, it doesn’t brush and clean your teeth the way that a brush does, especially an electric one.

But, it’s still an essential step in the dental hygiene process for several reasons.

It Prevents Plaque from Building Up…Sort Of

Mouthwash helps prevents new plaque from forming on your gums and teeth. This helps to prevent cavities from forming and strengthens your enamel, if it contains fluoride.

Mouthwash can’t get rid of plaque that’s already there. It’s the most efficient when it’s used in conjunction with flossing and brushing.

It May Help With Bad Breath

The ingredients in mouthwash kill some of the bacteria that cause breath to stink.

It will leave your breath clean and fresh-smelling for quite a while. And it’s easy to tote around in a small bottle if you need a refresher after lunch.

There are many flavors to choose from and plenty of alcohol-free options, so it’s easy to find a flavor that you like and a brand that works for you. In fact, you may want to look at alcohol-free versions because alcohol can dry out the mouth. This drying effect may lead to more bacterial growth and odor.

It Removes Any Missed Particles and Reduces Bacteria

Any particles that you miss while brushing and flossing should come loose when you rinse with mouthwash.

You can even opt to use it before your brush and floss to make brushing and flossing easier.

Harmful bacteria living around and under your gums is what causes gum disease, or gingivitis. When you opt to use mouthwash, you’re significantly reducing that bacteria and slightly altering new bacteria from settling in your mouth.

It Whitens Your Teeth

While mouthwash doesn’t whiten in the same way that whitening treatments do, it may help to whiten your teeth over time.

If you want one that will work even harder to whiten your teeth, opt for a brand that contains peroxide.

Either way, if you are taking care of your teeth regularly, you’ll keep them from discoloring more over time.

Tips and Tricks for Using Mouthwash

Be careful with a mouthwash that contains fluoride. Swallowing too much is harmful, so keep this kind away from your young kids.

And if you want to find a type that works for the whole family, opt for alcohol-free versions.

Read the instructions on the brand you use so that you ensure you’re rinsing for the right amount of time, or diluting it if that’s what it requires.

Wait at least 30 minutes before you eat or drink anything. When you do, it’ll wash those germ-killing ingredients and fluoride off your teeth.

Use your mouthwash at least twice a day, in the morning and at night. And if you don’t feel comfortable brushing your teeth at work or don’t have the means to do so, just carry around a small bottle of mouthwash with you.

While it won’t clean your teeth as effectively as brushing, flossing, AND rinsing, it is better than not doing anything after you eat your lunch or drink coffee.

Does Mouthwash Work?

If you’re still asking yourself, “Does mouthwash work,” the answer is yes, it does…to some degree.

Not one aspect of dental hygiene is enough on its own. People often want to know which is more effective, flossing, or brushing? The answer is that they are both important, and mouthwash can be too, especially if it contains ingredients like fluoride.

Flossing, brushing, and using mouthwash all play essential roles in an effective dental hygiene routine. Be sure to blend the different tools available to ensure your mouth stays healthy!

About the Author Dr. Greg

Dr. Greg's experience in dentistry spans over 25 years serving patients of all ages. He's an advisor to and a consultant to many professional dental projects.