There’s no shortage of mouthwashes on the market with claims of miraculous germ fighting capabilities. Selecting one at the supermarket can be quite overwhelming. But do they really work and should you be using one?
Does mouthwash work the way they show on TV?
We’ve all seen the ads with mouthwash BLASTING away the plaque and shielding the teeth from germs. The marketing is brilliant and has made Listerine a household name in dental care. Unfortunately the truth is not as fabulous as the ads suggest. Some mouthwashes can protect teeth from plaque building up for a particular period of time but they do not remove plaque from teeth.
When it comes to preventing decay and gum disease brushing and flossing are essential and as much as we would all like to believe that a simple rinse is a substitute for either of these activities- it’s not.
Is mouthwash bad for you?
Frequent alcohol consumption is a known factor in oral cancer and it follows that swishing alcohol all around our mouths a couple of times every day can’t be good. Studies have found that frequent, long-term use of alcohol containing mouthwash results in an increased risk of oral cancer. If you are using a mouthwash for a short period of time (e.g. a fortnight) to treat a specific problem then an alcohol containing mouthwash is perfectly fine, but if you are using mouthwash daily and over a long period of time this is cause for concern.
Mouthwashes do have their place
Despite what I have written thus far, mouthwashes are important in oral health care. There are 3 excellent reasons to use a mouthwash:
1. To protect teeth against decay for those people who are at a high risk of decay
Mouthwashes can be put to good use for people who suffer from a very dry mouth, those in aged care settings where tooth brushing is difficult or for people with braces which make brushing more difficult. In these instances the mouthwash should be a high fluoride mouthwash and alcohol free.
2. To treat gum disease
During an acute flare up of gum disease we often recommend use of a chlorhexidine mouthwash. This is no substitute for professional management of gum disease but is a great adjunct to treatment. In general it should only be used for a fortnight. Please bear in mind that extended use of these products may result in heavy staining of the teeth.
3. Following wisdom tooth extraction
Use of a chlorhexidine mouthwash after extraction of wisdom teeth has been shown to decrease the risk of developing an infection.
In all of these situations you should discuss the use of mouthwash with your dental professional.
What do you recommend to care for teeth and gums?
We wish that there was a simpler solution to tooth decay and gum disease. Unfortunately it is good old twice daily brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, daily flossing and a diet low in sugar which continues to be the best way to prevent decay. When it comes to gum disease, regular hygienist visits as directed by your dental health professional is still the best option by far.