6 Myths About Using Mouthwash You Need to Stop Believing Right Now

Mouthwash can help keep your gums and teeth healthy but only if you use them properly. We've got expert tips on boosting the benefits of mouth rinses.

Rinse, gargle, spit

mouthwashShutterstockMany 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 colors? Check out these six mouthwash myths and see how your rinse know-how compares—and make sure to brush up on what your dentist wishes you would do with your teeth

Myth 1: All mouthwashes are made equal

mouthwash“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. Want to ensure you have a healthy smile? Check out these oral hygiene tips you should be following

Myth 2: Mouthwash is harmless

mouthwashShutterstockMany mouthwashes contain a high amount of alcohol (which can be dangerous for children). 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 says 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.

Myth 3: Mouthwash cures bad breath

mouthShutterstockMouthwash 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. Here's the easiest cure for bad breath.

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Myth 4: Mouthwash can replace brushing

toothbrushShutterstockMouthwash 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. (Mouthwash should be used every night. Here are 11 other things you should be doing before bedtime).

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. (By the way, don't make these tooth brushing mistakes while you're at it.)

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.

Myth 5: A little swish’ll do ya

toothbrushShutterstockDo 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.

Myth 6: Mouthwash is just for your mouth

mouthwashShutterstockMouthwash 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. Here are seven other ways you can use mouthwash!

You won’t find these uses on the product label, however, so apply them at your own risk!

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