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Many Canadians use mouthwash, or mouth rinses, as part of their oral hygiene routine. But how much do you know about this rinsing agent, other than the fact that it comes in lots of colours? Check out these six mouthwash myths and see how your rinse know-how compares.
(Related: 35 Secrets Your Dentist Won’t Tell You)
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“The benefits from using a mouthwash depend largely on the type of product used,” says Dr. Euan Swan, manager of dental programs at the Canadian Dental Association in Ottawa. Mouthwash can be classified as cosmetic or therapeutic. Rinsing with a cosmetic mouthwash will loosen bits of food from your teeth, lessen bacteria in your mouth, temporarily reduce bad breath and leave a refreshing taste in your mouth. But these products can’t make any greater claim than that.
Therapeutic rinses contain additional active ingredients such as essential oils, chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium chloride and fluoride, which have been proven to reduce plaque or fight cavities. They may have a seal of recognition from the Canadian Dental Association.
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Many mouthwashes contain a high amount of alcohol. This can cause a dry mouth, which ironically is a cause of bad breath, and irritate oral tissues. “In some people, the alcohol can cause sensitivity to the root surfaces of the teeth,” adds Dr. Lewis West, a Toronto dentist. There have also been studies suggesting a link between alcohol-containing mouthwash and oral cancer, but the research is limited and many experts say there’s not enough evidence to draw this conclusion.
Alcohol-free mouthwashes are available. But other ingredients can cause side effects, too. Many can stain your teeth or cause a burning sensation. Essential oils may have an uncomfortably sharp taste. Chlorhexidine can temporarily alter your sense of taste, and isn’t recommended for long-term use. Mouthwash is not meant to be ingested, so it may cause problems if accidentally swallowed. It’s not usually recommended for young children.
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Mouthwash may temporarily curtail stinky breath, but it’s not a permanent fix. Smelly compounds from your garlicky lunch, for example, are actually coming from your lungs as you exhale, so freshening your mouth won’t help for long. Your saliva can work against you too. Saliva dilutes mouthwash. In some cases, the proteins in saliva can reduce the effectiveness of mouthwash ingredients.
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Mouthwash can cut back the level of bacteria in your mouth. “But it’s not the type of thing that would last all day,” says Dr. West. “You still have to do your cleaning and brushing.” Regular flossing and brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush will do a much more effective job of removing plaque and debris than mouthwash alone.
Research shows that adding a rinse with mouthwash to your oral care routine can in fact improve the overall cleanliness of your mouth and help keep gum inflammation at bay. But mouthwash is usually considered an add-on, not a replacement for brushing and flossing.
In special situations, like after oral surgery, your healthcare provider might direct you to use a mouth rinse instead of brushing. This will be temporary, and soon you’ll be back to your usual mouth care.
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Do you gargle or rinse for a few quick seconds, then spit? Most mouthwashes are at their most effective when in contact with your mouth tissues for 30 seconds per use. But despite best intentions, some people say mouthwash is so strong or stings so much that it’s difficult to use for that long. (There’s even a Facebook group for folks who fail to keep mouthwash in their mouth for half a minute)
Still, it’s worth sticking it out if you want the best results. “Mouthwash should be used as directed by the manufacturer,” says Dr. Swan.
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Mouthwash doesn’t always have to go in your mouth to be useful. It’s a good cleansing product for mouth guards, for instance. Some people also swear by alcohol-based mouthwash for dandruff control, wound care, toilet bowl disinfectant and even underarm deodorizer. You won’t find these uses on the product label, however, so apply them at your own risk!
Next: What to Know About the Benefits of Oil Pulling for Your Teeth
Originally Published: February 16, 2022