Mouthwash can help rinse away food debris and bacteria after brushing, but it is not an essential part of a good oral hygiene routine. However, it doesn’t do any harm either, and can help fight bad breath.
Many people like rinsing with mouthwash after they’ve brushed, because they feel that the mouthwash is clearing away whatever loose debris left over after brushing.
While this is actually true, rinsing with water after brushing has the same effect.
More than anything else, mouthwash is a good addition to a proper oral hygiene routine, but is not a substitute for regular brushing and flossing. That said, it can help freshen your breath, and it’s mostly harmless.
This may surprise you, if you’ve heard about the studies over the years that connect mouthwash use to things like cancer and heart disease.
For example, one recent study in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine found that some mouthwashes could raise blood pressure by wiping out a type of mouth bacteria that helps the body generate nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is known to play a critical role in protecting the cardiovascular system, including regulating blood pressure.
However, this study focuses on mouthwashes that contain a strong antibacterial agent called chlorhexidine, which is usually only available by prescription. It was also a very small study of just 19 participants, and therefore more research is required to support its findings.
Since the 1990s, studies have suggested that mouthwashes that contain alcohol may contribute to the development of oral cancers. Many experts say that these studies are flawed, however, and focus on excessive mouthwash use—three or more rinses a day.
In addition, several review studies have failed to find links between alcohol in mouthwash and cancer.
You should be aware, though, that mouthwashes with alcohol in them can dry out your mouth, so if you have issues with dry mouth, choose an alcohol-free version.
Antiseptic or antibacterial mouth rinses present a more complicated issue. Only people who have gum disease or with harmful types of oral bacteria should use these types of rinses. If you're thinking of using one, be sure to consult with your dentist first.
If you have healthy teeth and a healthy mouth, select a mild mouthwash without alcohol or strong antibacterial agents.
Ultimately, mouthwash may feel nice and refreshing to use, but it really doesn’t do much other than (possibly) help reduce bad breath. If you like mouthwash, there’s no medical reason not to use it in moderation, but if you want to save some money, just rinse with water instead.