Mouthwash commercials have most of us convinced that it’s a crucial part of our oral care routine – but is mouthwash really necessary for healthy teeth and gums? The short answer: No.
The long answer: If you brush and floss your teeth properly, and get regular professional cleanings, mouthwash is not a necessary component in maintaining healthy teeth. Most mouthwashes are only effective on the surface of your teeth. If you’re not maintaining your oral health properly and you’ve allowed plaque and bacteria to build up, mouthwash isn’t very effective in penetrating into the plaque.
“Mouthwash actually plays a fairly minor role in the prevention of plaque and gum disease,” says Anthony Komaroff, M.D., Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Brushing and flossing are much more important." Mouthwash only masks bad breath – it doesn’t cure it. If you haven’t made healthy teeth a priority, no amount of mouthwash can mask the effects of poor health (it’s like putting on perfume after not showering for a week).
What’s super ironic about mouthwashes that contain alcohol is: You’re supposed to use it as a way to curb bacteria growth in your mouth, but alcohol dries out your mouth – turning it into a bacteria haven! (Womp, womp.)
According to Komaroff, the most effective way of dealing with bad breath is by brushing your tongue when you’re brushing your teeth. “Most of the bacteria that cause bad breath reside in a small area at the back of the tongue,” he says. “Brushing them away with a toothbrush is more effective than rinsing with a mouthwash.”
Although brushing and flossing are your keys to healthy teeth, the antibacterial ingredients in some mouthwashes do have a modest effect. If using mouthwash is important to you, look for mouthwashes that have the American Dental Association’s “Seal of Acceptance” as a plaque fighter.
If you’d like to jump off the mouthwash bandwagon, here’s your uber-simple guide to healthy teeth:
Floss your teeth properly by...
- Flossing them before you brush – it’s a more effective way of maintaining healthy teeth.
- Wrapping a length of dental floss around your index and middle fingers, leaving about two inches between your hands.
- Sliding the floss between your teeth and wrapping it into a “C” shape around your tooth. Wipe your tooth from bottom to top two or three times.
- Flossing both sides of every tooth. Don’t forget the backs of your last molars.
Brush your teeth properly by...
- Directing the bristles to where your gums and teeth meet, and use gentle, circular, massaging motions, up and down.
- Cleaning every side of every tooth.
- Not rushing the process – a thorough brushing should take at least two to three minutes.
- Switching up your brushing pattern. When you brush your teeth the same way all the time, that means you're missing the same spots all the time.
- Using a brush with soft bristles, and changing it a minimum of every three months.
Do you use mouthwash to maintain healthy teeth? Why or why not?
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Image: Charmaine Chiu