Numerous studies have shown that using an appropriate mouth-rinse, in conjunction with regular brushing and flossing, is an easy and effective way for you to improve your overall oral health. As part of a regular program of oral hygiene, mouth-rinses (which are sometimes called mouthwashes) can be effective at reducing plaque, controlling bad breath, and helping to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. There are a myriad of mouth-rinses lining the drugstore shelves, and they are available in both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) formulations. Which one is best for you? That depends on what benefit you expect to get from using it.
It’s important to keep in mind that many off-the-shelf mouth-rinses are primarily cosmetic: That means, they may (temporarily) make your mouth taste or smell good, but they don’t offer any lasting benefit to your oral health. There’s nothing wrong with that — as long as you weren’t expecting anything more. But if you’ve been told that you are at risk for tooth decay or gum disease, you’ll want to use a mouthrinse that has proven clinical benefits.
Mouth-rinses that offer oral-health benefits are considered therapeutic. These fall into two general categories: anti-cariogenic rinses, which are designed to prevent tooth decay (and thus dental caries, or “cavities”); and anti-bacterial rinses, which help control the buildup of plaque bacteria in your mouth. Some products may even offer both types of protection.
To help prevent tooth decay, anti-cariogenic mouthrinses use an ingredient you’re probably already familiar with: fluoride. This is often in the form of a .05% sodium fluoride solution. Because it’s a liquid, the rinse can get all around your teeth — even into spaces the smallest brush can’t reach.
Fluoride has been consistently proven to strengthen tooth enamel, which protects against decay; it can even reduce tiny lesions on teeth where a cavity may form. There’s hardly anyone who couldn’t use some extra help in the fight against cavities — but if you’ve been told you may be at a higher risk for tooth decay, or if you have difficulty brushing and flossing, then an anti-cariogenic rinse is a good choice for you.
Anti-bacterial mouthrinses generally contain ingredients (like triclosan, essential oils, or the prescription medication chlorhexidine) that help to control the microorganisms found in plaque. Plaque, a sticky, bacteria-laden biofilm, occurs not only on the surfaces of the teeth, but also in other parts of the mouth. Rinsing with an anti-bacterial solution has been shown to provide a greater reduction in plaque than brushing and flossing alone. As tools in the fight against gum disease (gingivitis) and tooth decay, anti-bacterial mouth-rinses may be a good step toward improving your oral hygiene.
Choosing A Mouth-Rinse
If you’re shopping for an over-the-counter therapeutic mouthrinse, look for the ADA (American Dental Association) seal on the label; it means that the product has been evaluated and proven effective by an independent panel of dental experts. If a mouth-rinse has been prescribed for you, you should carefully follow the usage instructions. (Note, however, that due to labeling rules, prescription mouth-rinses may not be eligible for the ADA seal.) Mouth-rinses can benefit most people, but they generally aren’t recommended for children under the age of six, who may swallow them.