Oral Rinses: Is Mouthwash Bad for You?

To rinse or not to rinse, that is the question. But what is the answer?

In this two-part blog post, we’re going to explore the benefits and drawbacks of commercial mouthwashes and discuss homemade or natural mouthwash alternatives. Let’s answer that age-old question.

The Cons of Conventional Mouthwash

Even though your dentist has likely been recommending that you use mouthwash, that doesn’t mean that mouth rinses don’t have their fair share of drawbacks. In fact, even the most basic forms of dental care have downsides. For example, brushing your teeth too frequently or with too much force will erode your gums. With that understanding in my mind, let’s take a look at some of the cons of commercial mouthwashes.

Mouthwash Kills Bacteria – We know what you’re thinking: isn’t it good that mouthwash kills bacteria? In short, the answer is yes. However, conventional mouthwash kills all bacteria in your mouth—the bad and the good alike. A 2019 study on the impacts of the oral microbiome on the risk of infection—i.e., periodontal disease—found that some bacteria actually reduced patients’ chances of reinfection. In other words, most store-bought mouthwashes killed the good bacteria in your mouth that helped defend against gum disease.

Mouthwash Dries Out Your Mouth – Many commercial types of mouthwash contain alcohol. While alcohol can be an effective disinfectant—and enjoyable social lubricant—it can also be dehydrating. Particularly when alcohol reacts with some of the compounds in your toothpaste, it can leave you feeling like you’ve rinsed your mouth out with a handful of sand. A dry mouth promotes the growth of bad bacteria which, in turn, can lead to bad breath and gum disease. Additionally, saliva boosts your dental health by remineralizing teeth and balancing your mouth’s pH level. A dry mouth could mean weakened teeth.

Mouthwash Only Covers Up Bad Breath – After using mouthwash, your breath will smell as nice as an alpine forest or a pristine glacier. Unfortunately, it’s just a cover-up. Mouthwash doesn’t actually correct bad breath and oftentimes doesn’t address the underlying cause of bad breath. In fact, because mouthwash that contains alcohol can dry out your mouth, it can actually cause bad breath once all of those mint-scented chemicals wear off.

Mouthwash Contains Harmful Chemicals – Chlorine dioxide, formaldehyde… poloxamer 407. Those are just some of the chemicals that you can find in the average commercial mouthwash. And that’s not even getting into the lengthy list of potentially harmful food colouring agents.

While most mouthwashes don’t contain any of those ingredients in significantly high enough concentrations, frequent or prolonged exposure can be enough to cause side effects. Chlorhexidine gluconate oral rinses, for example, can cause anaphylactic shock in those with strong allergies or contact dermatitis in those with a mild allergy. In other words, know what you’re putting into your body… even if you’re not actually drinking it.

The Pros of Proper Mouthwash

Despite some of the drawbacks discussed above, your dentist has not been lying to you about the benefits of rinsing regularly. In fact, the American Dental Association has bestowed its Seal of Acceptance on mouthwashes that have scientifically demonstrated their safety and efficacy.

Mouthwash Prevents Plaque – One of the drawbacks of mouthwash that we discussed was that it killed bacteria as indiscriminately as an overzealous gardener picking out flowers and weeds alike. But… it does kill bacteria. Plaque forms when the bacteria in your mouth team up together and create microfilm on your teeth and gums. Mouthwash effectively stops that from happening for a time and thusly helps to reduce your chances of developing gum disease.

Mouthwash Is Therapy for Your Gums – Cosmetic mouthwashes provide temporary relief from bad breath. Therapeutic oral rinses, however—even over-the-counter ones—have benefits beyond simply providing you with a minty-fresh smile. Mouthwashes that contain essential oils, fluoride, and peroxide can treat gingivitis, stop bleeding gums and prevent cavities. The right mouthwash can be like a spa day for your teeth and gums. Albeit, a 30-second spa day that ultimately you rinse down the sink.

Mouthwash Removes Food Debris – If you’re taking proper care of your dental and oral hygiene, then you should be able to remove most food particles from your mouth by brushing and flossing your teeth twice daily. However, an added rinse can only help. Whether it’s just warm salt water or a commercial mouthwash, the force and friction created by swishing and gargling remove food debris from your mouth.

Mouthwash Strengthens Teeth – Most over-the-counter mouthwashes contain fluoride. Though that might sound like one of those harmful chemicals we discussed earlier, fluoride is one of the good guys when it comes to dental hygiene. Fluoride strengthens teeth, reduces sensitivity, and improves oral health. Dental authorities such as the ADA have recognized the benefits of fluoride for decades.

Mouthwash is Dentist-Recommended

There should be no lengthy Shakespearean soliloquy about it. Hopefully, the answer to the age-old question is clear by now… rinse, rinse, rinse! Your dentist recommends it.

In the second part of this post, we’ll explore some alternative mouthwashes including some homemade concoctions that made our dentists cringe. In the meantime, check out the Dawson Dental blog for more great information and tips.