Should You Use Mouthwash for Dental Care?

Mouthwash has been around for hundreds of years. When Listerine first came out, it was marketed for a variety of uses, including a surgical antiseptic and even a cleaning product. In the 1920s, it finally became popular as a mouthwash, when the company marketed it for halitosis (the technical term for bad breath).

Today, almost 200 million Americans use mouthwash. There are also many different kinds and brands on the market besides Listerine. From alcohol-free mouthwashes to therapeutic rinses to all-natural formulas, you have your pick of mouthwash.

However, is mouthwash really that important to your oral health? Here’s what you need to know about mouthwash use.

Types of Mouthwash

When most people think of mouthwash, they think of mouthwash used to help fight bad breath. However, there are different types of mouthwash, and not all of them are designed to kill the germs that cause bad breath.

Mouthwashes can be divided into two main categories: therapeutic and cosmetic. While you can buy both types over-the-counter, some therapeutic mouthwashes, such as those that help treat gum disease or oral thrush, are only available by prescription.

Cosmetic mouthwashes are those that help control bad breath in the short-term and can leave your mouth with a fresh taste. However, these mouthwashes don’t always provide additional benefits beyond fresher breath and a good taste.

There are also mouthwashes that contain peroxide that can help whiten teeth. The most common types of therapeutic mouthwashes are those that contain fluoride to fight tooth decay, those that help relieve dry mouth, and those that provide topical pain relief, such as for oral lesions or ulcers.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Mouthwash

If you’ve been prescribed a therapeutic mouthwash by your dentist in Asheville or an oral surgeon, it’s important to use the mouthwash as directed to treat your condition. These mouthwashes include antibiotic rinses, artificial saliva mouthwash, and mouthwashes for pain relief.

However, if you’re using mouthwash purely for cosmetic reasons, such as to freshen your breath or whiten your teeth, there are advantages and disadvantages to using these products.

Advantages of using cosmetic mouthwash include:

  • Mouthwashes with peroxide can help whiten teeth
  • Helps remove debris between teeth, such as food particles
  • It can freshen your breath after eating pungent foods such as garlic or fish
  • Some cosmetic mouthwashes will also kill disease-causing bacteria


  • Many cosmetic mouthwashes don’t kill bacteria
  • Alcohol-based mouthwashes can increase risk for dry mouth
  • Mouthwashes with dyes may contribute to teeth staining
  • Antibacterial mouthwashes may kill good bacteria as well as bad
  • Mouthwash use can cover up symptoms of gum disease

Just like with many activities, there are pros and cons to using cosmetic mouthwash. Let’s take a closer look at what research says about mouthwash’s benefits and disadvantages.

What Research Says About Mouthwash Use

Mouth rinses with fluoride can help reduce tooth decay, especially in permanent teeth in children and teens. However, there is such a thing as getting too much fluoride—check with your dentist to be sure you or your child is getting enough fluoride. If you don’t have fluoridated drinking water, your dentist may suggest a fluoride mouth rinse to help prevent tooth decay.

Natural mouthwashes may help reduce gum bleeding and plaque accumulation in patients with periodontal disease, according to a small study.

Mouthwash with chlorhexidine can help prevent dental plaque and reduce gum inflammation, which could help reduce your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.

Research shows mouthwash with cetylpyridinium chloride, zinc lactate, and chlorhexidine gluconate can actually reduce the viral load of COVID-19 in the oral cavity, although the implications of these findings aren’t yet clear.

Mouthwash with chlorine dioxide is effective at reducing bad breath and dental plaque, which can help your mouth stay both cleaner and fresher.

Some research links mouthwashes with alcohol to oral cancer, since alcohol is a risk factor for oral cancer. The risk may depend on your family history of oral cancer, frequency of mouthwash use, and whether you smoke or drink alcohol. If you have a higher risk for oral cancer, it may be best to choose an alcohol-free mouthwash.

Dos and Don’ts When Using Mouthwash

Adding a mouthwash to your oral care routine can certainly be beneficial. Here are a few dos and don’ts to help you choose the right mouthwash and use it safely and effectively to support your oral health.

  1. When looking for an over-the-counter mouthwash, consider those that have the ADA Seal of Acceptance. These are mouthwashes that have been independently tested to be safe and effective.
  2. Children under the age of six should never use mouthwash, as they are more at risk to swallow the product. Even children older than age six should be supervised when using any type of mouthwash or therapeutic mouth rinse, such as fluoride rinses.
  3. Whether using cosmetic or therapeutic mouthwash, always use the product as directed. Using mouthwash too often—or, in the case of therapeutic mouthwashes, not often enough—can damage your oral health. Should you have any questions about how to use a product, or even if a particular product is right for you, don’t hesitate to follow up with your Asheville dentist.
  4. Never use mouthwash in place of brushing and flossing. Mouthwash is intended to be a supplement to your regular oral care practice, not a replacement. Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing once a day, and visiting your dentist every six months is still the best way to care for your smile.
  5. Choose a natural or undyed mouthwash if you are concerned about teeth staining. Natural mouthwashes may also be better for those with sensitive teeth.

Have Questions? Contact Us

Saunders DDS is here to support your best and brightest smile. We see both adults and children in Asheville. Have questions about whether or not mouthwash is right for you, or interested in a therapeutic mouthwash that could help you combat cavities, dry mouth, or gum disease? Contact us to book your next checkup at (828) 277-6060, or use our contact form online to request an appointment.

Book an appointment with our dental hygiene professional to ensure that you are cleaning your gums and teeth as thoroughly as possible.