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Mouthwashes—Can They Help Your Health?

Mouthwashes—Can They Help Your Health?

Mouthwashes—Can They Help Your Health?

by Bill Kuttler, DDS

When I was a kid, if I happened to utter a “bad” word, my mother threatened to wash my mouth out with soap.  And back then, that was about the only time I even thought of a mouthwash.  I guess I was really glad I didn’t ever have to use one!

Today, mouthwashes (more properly known as mouth rinses) have become big business–certainly not as big as toothpastes, but big, nonetheless.  And while they don’t get as much space in a grocery or drugstore aisle, they also have a fairly prominent location.

Not that many years ago, I dismissed mouth rinses as purely a cover-up approach for bad breath.  And I encouraged people to save their money and find out what was causing the bad breath (cavities, indigestion, gum disease, medical concerns such as diabetes, or various other issues).

In our new world, it’s not that simple anymore.  But in other ways, it is fairly simple.  The most important question to ask is “why do you want to use a mouth rinse?”  The answer to that question will certainly guide the search.  And, as with toothpastes, your dentist or dental hygienist is probably the place to start.

If you want to use a mouth rinse to give your mouth a fresh taste or scent, there are lots of choices, and you simply need to find one that you like.  BUT, if you are relying on that rinse to deal with chronic bad taste or odor issues, there is probably an underlying problem that you need to address.  Again, your dental health professionals are who you need to be talking with.

Many of today’s mouth rinses DO provide some therapeutic value.  Some of them help prevent cavities.  Others are designed to prevent or reduce the severity of gum disease.  Still others contain products to reduce the oral sores and pain that often occur secondary to cancer treatments.  Some are invaluable for people with dry mouths.  Some claim to reduce sensitivity and, no surprise, some claim to whiten teeth.

In many of these cases the benefits may be realized more effectively by using different products than mouth rinses (often, but not always, with toothpastes), but that doesn’t mean that mouth rinses don’t provide some help.  And in other cases, these may provide the best help, particularly for problems that may occur during some types of cancer treatment.  Another important use that really can’t be treated any other way with other dental products is for the treatment for dry mouth.  If someone lives with a dry mouth, either as a side effect of various medications or due to a lack of saliva production, specific oral rinses are really the best approach.  Some people find simply taking small sips of water frequently helps, but others find mouth rinses specifically designed for this problem to be invaluable.

The single best advantage of mouth rinses is that they are easy to use–just swish and expectorate (spit).  Many people find that advantage alone very worthwhile.  And in some instances that advantage is huge, even from a dental professional’s perspective.  Again, that is most often the case when someone’s mouth is simply too sore and / or irritated to even allow for gentle brushing.

However, the advantage of “easy” is often a disadvantage that dental professionals don’t like.  “Easy” is often not “best”.  Often toothpastes when applied appropriately and effectively with the appropriate toothbrush that is well-positioned and carefully used, will achieve better results.  And certainly that approach allows for better “targeting” for problem areas.

The bottom line is that when the correct mouth rinses are used for a specific reason, they can achieve positive results for many people.  Unless there is some allergic issue to an ingredient, there are generally no harmful effects to mouth rinses for most people.  If you want to learn more specifics, ask your dentist or dental hygienist.  I trust they’ll be happy to assist you to find a product to help you with whatever concern you may have.