Need-to-Know Facts About Mouthwash

Spearmint Mouthwash

Is mouthwash harmful or helpful? Can it rid you of your bad breath and effectively kill left over bacteria? What are over-the-counter mouthwashes made of and are they the best option for your needs? Continue reading below if any of these questions apply to you and learn exactly how certain types of mouthwashes work and what they’re most effectively used for.

According to Berkeley Wellness there are two different types of mouthwashes. There are cosmetic rinses used specifically for breath freshening and therapeutic rinses which kill bacteria and reduce plaque. Cosmetic: These washes are less regulated lightly by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while the American Dental Association (ADA) does not evaluate them. Therapeutic: All therapeutic rinses, aside from Listerine, require a prescription to purchase. These can help prevent gingivitis, a form of gum disease and are regulated by the FDA. Individual brands may apply for the ADA seal, which certifies that he product works as it claims.

Take note: do not replace brushing and flossing. Bad breath and poor dental hygiene are often the result of a neglected mouth; practicing good oral hygiene may prevent you from ever needing a mouthwash.

Active Ingredients

Alcohol: An antiseptic found in most Listerine rinses and generics, alcohol can kill bacteria and help prevent plaque build-up and gingivitis. The downside of this ingredient is that it can burn and cause dryness. The ADA says alcohol rinses are safe, yet some researchers are fearful that the long-term use of washes containing alcohol may increase the user’s risk of oral cancer.

Antibacterial Enzymes: One product labeled Biotene contains enzymes called lysozyme and lactoperoxidase that can help reduce dry mouth and kill bacteria. The body has its own enzymes that kill bacteria naturally, however.

Cetylpyridinium chloride: This ammonium compound kills bacteria and stop plaque in its tracks.

Chlorhexidine: This substance fights plaque and is most effective for treating periodontal disease. It’s only found in prescription mouthwashes and can stain teeth if used for too long.

Detergents: Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium benzoate are both detergents that loosen plaque.

Oils: Essential oils like menthol and Eucalyptol are used in Listerine and other alcohol-based washes; they act as breath fresheners.

Fluoride: This ingredient helps prevent cavities and is found in products like Periomed which require a prescription. Fluoride may be good for you if you have multiple crowns or bridges are therefore prone to cavities. Periomed is also used to decrease tooth sensitivity and gum inflammation. If you brush with fluoride toothpaste then you don’t need a fluoride rinse. Fluoride rinses can stain; children should not use them more than once in a week.

“Natural” Ingredients: According to Berkeley Wellness, “plant-derived ingredients that freshen breath or kill bacteria are no more ‘natural’ than fluoride or alcohol,” in fact, some herbs have been linked to a precancerous oral condition called leukoplakia.

Hydrogen peroxide: This substance may help reduce plaque and gingivitis and whitens teeth a little bit. While it has antibacterial qualities, if overused it may cause mouth irritation.

Zinc chloride: This ingredient is supposed to fight bad breath, yet there is only one study that supports this claim.

Keep in mind that mouthwashes work best with an already effective brushing and flossing regimen. Using a mouthwash after brushing will make sure that the active ingredients don’t get brushed away.


Make sure to consult your primary care physician or chiropractor for all health related advice.

Story Credit

Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Mike Fisher

This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of The Joint Corp (or its franchisees and affiliates). You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.