How Mouthwash Can Benefit You and Your Family

Last updated on August 29th, 2015 at 04:15 pm

A mouthwash is a mouthwash is a mouthwash – or so you may think. Sure, some may be green or blue or extra-minty, but really, how different could they be?

Turns out there’s a key difference: Some rinses help you more than others, and some even contain ingredients you should avoid, says Ingvar Magnusson, D.D.S., Ph.D., a research professor in oral biology at the University of Florida College of Dentistry in Gainesville. For example, many rinses have sodium lauryl sulfate, which tends to dry and irritate the mouth – especially if you suffer from canker sores. And some studies have found a link between rinses with a high alcohol content (25 percent or more) and oral cancers.

It’s smart to ask your dentist for rinse recommendations that suit your family’s specific dental hygiene needs. But in the meantime, here’s a cheat sheet for your next trip down the mouthwash aisle:

WANT TO …      

Help prevent cavities?

  • LOOK FOR….Fluoride. Its ability to prevent tooth decay is well-established.

Fight gum disease?            

  • LOOK FOR….Cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) or chlorhexidine gluconate. Recent research has shown these ingredients help prevent gingivitis and dental plaque.

 Moisten the mouth?

  • LOOK FOR….Carboxymethylcellulose or hydroxyethylcellulose, both of which simulate natural saliva. Bonus points if the rinse also contains fluoride, since dry mouth contributes to cavities.

 Soothe canker sores or mouth abrasions?

  • LOOK FOR….Hydrogen peroxide. It’s a safe bet because it’s antimicrobial without being overly abrasive.

 Freshen breath?

  • LOOK FOR….Methyl salicylate and chlorhexidine gluconate. These antiseptics help fight the bacteria that contribute to bad breath. Additional herbs, scents and flavorings help mask odor.

 Finally, remember that no rinse can take the place of flossing and brushing, which physically scrapes the plaque off your teeth. Rinses may have some impact on preventing gingivitis or tooth decay, but only if used as part of a solid dental-health routine, says Magnusson.



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Editor’s Note:  Mouth rinses can be great for kids. Our pediatric dentist recommended adding a mouthwash to my 9-year old son’s dental routine for added protection, especially on those days when he rushes the brushing (because, hey, we know it’s happening!).  But they specifically recommended a rinse like Crest Pro-Health because it contains the cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) mentioned above.  It’s working great for him and I’ve started using it too.  It is quite minty/spicy, but he handles it by making it into a game – jumping or dancing after he’s rinsed, until the spice eases!

About the Author

Victoria Clayton is a freelance health writer based in Southern California. She is the former “Growing Up Healthy” columnist for Msnbc.com and the coauthor of Fearless Pregnancy: Wisdom and Reassurance from a Doctor, a Midwife and a Mom. Victoria‘s work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times magazine, Self, Redbook, Prevention and elsewhere. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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