Mouthwash has quickly become a staple product in many households, a bottle might even be sitting in your bathroom cabinet next to the toothpaste right now. Even with a hefty price tag for an oral care product, mouthwash earned quite a lot of fans, with over 200 million people using it daily in the United States alone. Honestly speaking, this is isn’t surprising given that it is marketed as a miracle cure - a product capable of preventing gum disease and cavities, getting rid of bad breath and even whitening your teeth. But can mouthwash actually do all that, and even if so, are there any dangers to using mouthwash for a long period of time? Scroll down for the answers.
Can Mouthwash Do What It Claims?
Mouthwash really appeals to our senses with its refreshing minty sweet flavor and that clean feeling in your mouth. However, these feelings are quite misleading, as mouthwash is actually not nearly as effective at cleaning your teeth as it seems, which is why it can't replace regular brushing and flossing.
In recent years, the effectiveness of mouthwash has been increasingly questioned as well. For one, it has been long observed that mouthwash cannot get rid of bad breath for a long time, but it turns out that the vast majority of mouthwash can also do very little for plaque reduction and gum disease prevention.
1. Gum Disease Prevention
Certain kinds of mouthwash, namely those that contain an ingredient called chlorhexidine have been known to help prevent the spread of gum infections in people with acute cases of gum disease, but these should NOT be used for more than a week or two since they can cause brown staining and encourage tartar formation.
2. Plaque Reduction
There is some evidence suggesting that using a mouthwash twice a day can reduce the amount of plaque on the teeth, but all of these studies looked at a good oral hygiene altogether, and not at mouthwash alone, so we can’t reliably conclude that it’s the mouthwash and not brushing and flossing that’s contributing to the plaque reduction.
3. Protection From Cavities
Mouthwash that contains fluoride may help protect your teeth from cavities, but only if you keep it in your mouth for a minute, which most people don’t; interestingly, the same effect can be achieved by not rinsing your mouth with water after brushing your teeth with toothpaste that contains fluoride.
Sure, if you need to mask bad breath in a pinch, mouthwash may help, but using it on a daily basis can be a waste of your money, especially since you can make a natural DIY mouthwash from ingredients you already have at home. Apart from that, some varieties of mouthwash can actually clash with your toothpaste, as they can contain ingredients that cancel out the active ingredients in your toothpaste.
Can Mouthwash Be Harmful?
There are several known concerns with mouthwash, both regarding its effects on the body and the ingredients that are often used in these products. Let’s start from a list of controversial ingredients that can be harmful to your oral health if used long-term:
A huge quantity of mouthwash on the market contains quite high quantities of alcohol, which is known to be very drying and may contribute to a dry mouth if used on an everyday basis. Keep in mind that having a dry mouth is more than just an unpleasant sensation, it’s a potentially dangerous condition that increases one’s risk of developing cavities, gum disease, oral yeast infections, and even digestive issues.
You should also make sure that kids under the age of 6 don't use mouthwash that contains alcohol, as even the smallest quantity ingested by small children may hinder their normal development.
2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
We have covered the use of sulfates in cosmetic and hair care products in a previous article. In short, sulfates like this can be bad because they are very drying and sensitizing, an issue that becomes even worse when you’re using it inside your mouth. Dry mouth and mouth sores can be caused by SLS.
Apart from that, SLS is technically a type of salt, so if you happen to ingest it, it will count as part of your sodium intake, an intake that’s already typically too high in most people.
3. Saccharin and Other Sweeteners
Manufacturers will typically add some kind of sweetener to mouthwash to make it more pleasant for your taste buds. The problem with this is that sugar is absolutely unnecessary in mouthwash products and can actually worsen your oral health, not to mention you can end up ingesting more artificial sweeteners as if most people don’t eat too much sugar and sugar replacements already.
Chlorhexidine is a good ingredient if you use it right. It’s typically found in mouthwash varieties that market themselves as ‘antiseptic’ or ‘antibacterial’, and it does kill the bacteria in your mouth. This is good if you’re currently treating some kind of acute infection, but if you're using an antibacterial mouthwash every day, you’re ruining your oral micro-biome - the healthy bacteria that live in your mouth and help your body fight off bad bacteria. It's best to opt out antibacterial mouthwash unless you were prescribed it to treat a condition.
Irrespective of ingredients, mouthwash has also been linked to increased risk of hypertension and cancers of the mouth, vocal cords, throat, and esophagus. There is not enough scientific evidence to claim that frequent use of mouthwash (3 times/day or more) causes these conditions and we hope that will soon change given than so many people may be using a harmful product on an everyday basis.
The bottom line is that there is no real reason for someone to be using mouthwash if they’re not suffering from an acute infection in the oral cavity, as the risks of the product seem to outweigh its benefits. Apart from that, the use of mouthwash seems to make a very minor contribution to your oral hygiene regimen, so you'd be saving a lot of money and time by avoiding it altogether.