Should Mouthwash Be a Part of Your Oral Health Routine? By Thomas G. Zarger Jr., D.D.S. on September 14, 2014

Patient in a dental chairAsking if mouthwash should be a part of your daily routine is a smart question.

Certainly, advertisers would like you to assume you need it. And many mouthwashes do have oral health benefits. But the bigger question is:  Do you need the extra protection?

The answer hinges on the conditions in your mouth.

Dr. Thomas G. Zarger, who offers general dentistry with an emphasis on preventive care in Knoxville, advises patients on a case-by-case basis about mouthwash benefits and whether mouthwash will benefit them in particular. That’s because each person is unique and dental health care varies from person to person, he explains.

While mouthwash may be the right call for one person, someone else may not need it at all. And when a mouthwash is advisable, it’s also important to match the mouthwash to the patient’s needs.  

Addressing unique patient needs tracks with recommendations by the American Dental Association (ADA), which recommends asking your dentist for advice about whether you need to use mouthwash and what kind of mouthwash would benefit you. The ADA also points out that mouthwash can never replace brushing and flossing, which are much more effective than a mouthwash in maintaining oral health.

Kinds of Mouthwash

In general, there are two kinds of mouthwash:

  • Therapeutic Mouthwashes
  • Cosmetic Mouthwashes

Cosmetic Mouthwashes

Cosmetic mouthwashes may temporarily mask bad breath, but they don’t solve it. Cosmetic mouthwashes can’t kill the bacteria that cause bad breath or inactivate odor-causing compounds. Nor can cosmetic mouthwashes control plaque, gingivitis, or cavities. Basically, cosmetic mouthwashes just cover up the problem of bad breath.

Therapeutic Mouthwashes

Therapeutic mouthwashes contain active ingredients that may help reduce plaque, gingivitis, cavities, and other oral health problems. While therapeutic mouthwashes may help deal with the causes of the problem, it’s important to pick a therapeutic mouthwash that targets your particular problem. 

Some types of therapeutic mouthwashes include:

  • Anti-Gingivitis or Anti-Plaque Mouthwashes. These mouthwashes have ingredients that reduce the bacterial count and inhibit bacterial activity that can cause gingivitis, a type of gum disease.
  • Fluoride Mouthwashes. These mouthwashes are designed to strengthen tooth enamel to help prevent or reduce tooth decay.
  • Bad Breath Mouthwashes. Instead of masking bad breath the way cosmetic mouthwashes do, a therapeutic bad breath mouthwash can attack bad breath bacteria or chemically inactivate the odor causing compounds.

Do I Need Mouthwash?

Whether or not you need a mouthwash will depend on your oral health. For patients with periodontal disease, an antibacterial mouthwash may help reduce the bacteria in the mouth. A patient prone to cavities may benefit from a fluoride mouthwash, which could strengthen the teeth. In addition to over-the-counter fluoride mouthwashes, there are prescription-strength versions a dentist can prescribe.

Your first step in deciding about mouthwashes is asking your dentist, who is familiar with your dental health. A dentist can determine if a mouthwash will benefit your oral health and advise you on the type of mouthwash best suited to your problems.


If you would like to know if mouthwash will benefit you, please contact us. Dr. Zarger would be happy to examine your mouth and outline the appropriate preventive steps to optimize your dental health.

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