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Mouthwashes: Effective or not?

Mouthwash, is it an effective teeth cleaning cure-all or comforting breath mint that actually doesn’t do anything?  It is an age-old question, very, very old, as mouthwash goes as far back as the Roman times.  Unfortunately for them, mouthwash in first century A.D meant human urine!

Yes, you read that right.  Romans and Greeks used urine as mouthwash, however disgusting, they rightly thought the ammonium would serve as a suitable cleanser.  The rest of what is in urine, my guess is they ignored.  Today in the 21st century, mouthwashes come in as many flavors and types as ice cream but the question persists, is it effective?  Like any good scientific answer, all signs point to yes.

Of course, that magic eight ball answer is relative.  Bottom line, nothing replaces brushing and flossing everyday.  No dentist will tell you different and mine would threaten my life if I led you to believe otherwise.  However, there are enough reputable scientific studies that prove consistent use with mouthwash can help fight plaque, bacteria causing gingivitis and bad breath.  The American Dental Association bestows its prestigious seal approval to mouthwashes if submitted scientific evidence proves their product accomplishes one of three goals.

The titles are typically doctoral but you’ll get the gist: first, chemotherapeutic products for the control of gingivitis, second, oral malodor management products and finally, fluoride rinses.  Basically they can fight gingivitis, bad breath, strengthen teeth and fight tooth decay.  Today, mouthwashes are broken into 4 different categories: Fluoride, Cosmetic, Antiseptic, and Natural, available in many flavors and in combination.

Why so many? As they tell kids in elementary schools, “Everyone is unique.”  While that is up for debate, the variety of mouthwashes we actually need is pretty simple.  Here’s a run down of which does what:

Cosmetic: Freshens breath and is easy on teeth but doesn’t fight the root of the issue, which is bacteria.  Cosmetic mouthwashes are strong tic-tacs basically.

Fluoride: Contains sodium fluoride, which strengthens teeth while fighting tooth decay.

Antiseptic: This fights the whole gambit of oral issues and has chlorhexidine gluconate, a bacteria fighting chemical, which if overused can cause discoloration of teeth.

Natural: Everything comes in natural form these days.

As every drug commercial advises, “It’s important to consult a medical professional before (fill in the blank).”  In this case talk with your dentist about which type of mouthwash works best for you.  He’ll weigh your oral hygiene needs that best fit with what is on the market.