There are dozens of brands of mouthwashes and rinses on drugstore shelves that American consumers buy each year for clean breath and oral health. But the question is do they really work?
To properly answer that, you should first know that mouth rinses fall into two general categories: cosmetic and therapeutic. A cosmetic rinse can give you a temporary “clean” feeling in the mouth (usually masking bad breath with a more pleasant smell) but in the long run doesn't contribute to better oral health. On the other hand, therapeutic rinses do enhance oral health; they contain one or more ingredients that can help prevent the development of tooth decay and/or inhibit bacterial growth.
Although some therapeutic rinses are prescribed by dentists, many are available over-the-counter (OTC). Decay-fighting rinses usually contain sodium fluoride, which has been amply demonstrated to strengthen the surface of teeth and thus inhibit tooth decay and the likelihood of new cavity development — but only when used in combination with good hygiene practices. Anti-bacterial rinses contain ingredients such as triclosan, zinc or essential oils like menthol that reduce the level of bacteria in plaque (when also coupled with good oral hygiene). This also helps reduce the growth of decay.
For some patients a prescription rinse may be in order, especially during recuperation from oral surgery or where normal plaque control is difficult. The most common rinse contains chlorhexidine, a chemical that prevents bacteria from sticking to the teeth. The effectiveness of chlorhexidine, especially in helping to control gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and preventing tooth decay, is well-documented after many years of research and use. While it may cause teeth staining in some patients, the staining can be alleviated by ultrasonic scaling or polishing.
So then, should you incorporate a mouth rinse into your daily hygiene regimen, and if so, what kind? That will depend on your own individual oral health needs, which we can advise you on. Knowing what your own needs are and the different kinds of mouth rinses and what they are designed to do, you can make an informed choice.
If you would like more information on the use of mouthwashes or rinses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Mouthrinses.”