I remember a little while ago, in the comment box some readers shared their thoughts on using mouthwashes, or rather, not using mouthwash. I came across a very interesting article in the Bangkok Post last week, that reminded me of this fleeting discussion so I thought I’d like to open this up for further discussion.
We often see lots of ads on TV encouraging us to use a mouthwash or to gargle with one to prevent cavities and gum disease. There are some that are so strong it feels like they strip off the interior lining of your tongue and mouth (Listerine, ouch!), some that taste so sweet it feels almost ridiculous, some that even stain your teeth red (Plax, ugh!) and some that claim to be all natural (Ah Yuan and Aesop).
In most cases, I have not seen them advertised as being a substitute for regular brushing and flossing, but I can imagine that sometimes, if in a hurry or tired people may just think a mouthwash could serve as a quick substitute. After all, it’s supposed to be good for your oral hygiene… or is it?
Do you use a mouthwash regularly and if so, why? Is it because you were advised to?
A mouthwash is not a substitute for brushing and flossing teeth
According to 2 dentists interviewed by the Bangkok Post, both of them didn’t think using a mouthwash was necessary at all. This reminded me that even my regular dentist doesn’t ask me to use one. He only advises me to brush and floss regularly.
It is interesting to note that because mouthwashes have been touted to prevent bacterial growth and gum disease among other claims, some people have taken to using them in place of brushing and flossing. I liked this analogy given by Dr. Suwanee in the article
“If you want to wash a bowl, for instance, you’d put some washing liquid on it, but if you don’t also use a cleaning pad to wash off the dirt, then the bowl doesn’t get really clean. The stains are still there”
So to effectively use a mouthwash, it should be used immediately after properly brushing and flossing and to gargle for at least a minute.
Honestly, if it wasn’t necessary, other than to give the mouth a fleeting feeling of freshness, I wouldn’t bother! LOL!
Mouthwash is only a temporary relief for bad breath
If you use mouthwash as a way to cover up bad breath, then you might want to get to the root of your problem first. Why are you having bad breath? If it is temporary from eating a garlic infused lunch, then I would assume that a quick rinse with a mouthwash can help make life for the people around you more pleasant.
If it is to cover a persistent problem with bad breath, then it could be a health problem or gum disease and it might be best to see a dentist or doctor and get yourself checked.
High alcohol content in mouthwashes can be bad for oral health
One of the warnings given by the dentists is to avoid using mouthwashes that have high alcohol content. These give your mouth a burning sensation as very high alcohol content can irritate the sensitive tissue in your mouth. So, if you have experienced this (and I have) and find it hard to keep the mouthwash in your mouth for the recommended 1 minute, then it isn’t the right one for you.
When I used mouthwashes, I did notice that my tolerance level did go up with each use, which is when I decided to stop. I felt that it wasn’t right for me to feel that burning sensation all the time. Sometimes, it was like I’d eaten the spiciest chilli in the world and my tongue would get all numb. Scared me half to death it did :P
Mouthwashes and oral cancer?
There apparently have been reports that prolonged and regular use of mouthwashes with high alcohol content have been linked to an elevated risk of oral cancer (source) but it has thus far not been accepted as conclusive evidence (source and source). The only thing everyone can agree on is that high intake of alcohol can increase the risk of cancer and so, regular and prolonged use of mouthwashes that contain high levels of alcohol may similarly increase the risk.
Get a prescription mouthwash if you really want to use one
I’ve also read that the only effective mouthwashes are those that have fluoride in them or anti-bacterial properties to prevent gum disease. These can be prescribed by your dentist, and they don’t recommend you use them for too long either. So, ideally, the take away is to check with your dentist to see if a mouthwash is truly necessary or if it might just cause you more harm than good.
I thought the article in the Bangkok Post was an interesting and thought-provoking read and you can read it in full here if you like, and draw your own conclusions. From everything I’ve read so far, mouthwashes don’t seem necessary and if used improperly could even cause more harm than good.
Do you use a mouthwash daily? Do you have any thoughts on whether they are necessary?
I actually don’t use a mouthwash daily or otherwise. I brush regularly and floss when I remember (I know, I know, I’m working on getting better at flossing! :P) I sometimes gargle with some salt water but not too regularly because it is acidic and not good for your teeth either. I saturate a glass of water with a few teaspoons of salt (also a very good sore throat remedy) as salt has natural antiseptic properties. If you have an ulcer in your mouth, a salt water gargle can help too, but the pain may kill you :P
Disclaimer: These are my own thoughts and conclusions based on articles I have read. If in doubt please consult your dentist or doctor.