Mouthwash is often misunderstood.
Some of the claims manufacturers make can be a little over-hyped.
Not everyone needs it, so you may even be wasting money if you buy it unnecessarily.
But it does have its uses — it can reduce the bad breath sensation, ease pain and inflammation in the mouth, and even protect the tooth enamel.
In this post I begin by explaining the key things to know about mouthwash.
I then recommend some products based on my own hands-on testing and input from our in-house dentists.
And for even more detail, our buyer’s guide answers additional questions.
Mouthwash is not a replacement to brushing
No matter what you current understanding and knowledge of mouthwash is, I want you to know…
Mouthwash is not a replacement to your normal tooth brushing and flossing routine.
It is designed to be complementary to that.
You should still brush at least twice a day for 2 minutes and floss at least once a day also.
It is the physical act of brushing and flossing that lifts and removes the bacteria in your mouth.
Failing to brush will mean that bacteria and food debris are left behind on your teeth.
Brushing your teeth only cleans 60% of the tooth surface, some 40% goes uncleaned unless you partake in interdental cleaning whether that is flossing or using interdental brushes.
Investing in a good toothbrush can be helpful and picking the right flossing tools for your needs. Why not check out our guide to the best electric toothbrush as well as our guide to the best flossing tools for more information.
Mouthwash is not a cure for bad breath
The major brands claim that a mouthwash will help deal with and essentially stop your bad breath problems.
Sadly, it is not quite as simple as that.
Bad breath is almost always caused by bacteria in the mouth.
Mouthwash can assist in reducing the perceived presence of bad breath by masking the odour the bacteria produce, but it does not stop it or remove the cause of bad breath.
The alcohol content in some can actually dry the mouth out and make the bad breath worse.
Therefore, if you are looking at a mouthwash for bad breath, be aware that the effects might not be as great as you might have first thought.
To take control of bad breath, you must remove bacteria, so you need to brush and floss regularly, including cleaning your tongue.
Your tongue is one of the biggest components in the issue that is bad breath or halitosis. The pitted surface enables bacteria growth, which produces the bad smelling sulphur residues.
Tongue scrapers, are brilliant at removing and reducing the bacteria build up and the impact of bad breath.
As a result, mouthwash is a solution to ease and help resolve the feeling of freshness when you are not within reach of a toothbrush and floss.
Don’t use mouthwash right after brushing
You might well have been taught to rinse after you brush your teeth, be that with water or mouthwash. This is actually the wrong time to do that.
Do not rinse or use mouthwash after brushing your teeth.
Rinsing with mouthwash should really be done at times when you do not have a toothbrush to hand and you want the refreshed feeling.
A common time people might make use of mouthwash is after lunch.
Rinsing right after brushing will wash away the concentrated fluoride that the remaining toothpaste within your mouth contains.
When you do use mouthwash, ensure you don’t eat or drink for 30 minutes after to get the maximum benefit.
If you have been prescribed a mouthwash, or have been given specific instructions from a registered dental professional, follow their advice.
In the video below, our in-house dentist Dr. Chhaya Chauhan explains when the right time to use mouthwash is:
The best mouthwash options and what to use them for
In the sections below you can read a little more about each mouthwash and the reason we have chosen it as the best in its category.
Listerine Cool Mint – Best general mouthwash
|Listerine Cool Mint||5 Reviews||$ 8.00||View on Amazon|
It is a brand you are likely familiar with and for good reason.
The choices you have in terms of flavours and the price you have to pay for the amount of mouthwash you get is excellent.
Named after Joseph Lister, the former president of the Royal Society and pioneer of antiseptic surgical methods, it has a respected heritage.
The cool mint flavoured mouthwash comes in a variety of bottle sizes. It looks to address plaque build up, kill off certain bacteria and give you fresh breath for up to to 12 hours.
- Great value for money
- Fights plaque
- Keeps breath fresh
- Readily available
- Different bottle size options
- Strong fresh taste
- Can dry the mouth out for some
Colgate Plax Freshmint – Best alcohol-free mouthwash
|Colgate Plax Alcohol Free Freshmint||73 Reviews||$ 5.99||View on Amazon|
There are many alcohol free mouthwashes available, but what I like about Colgate is that it is from a reputable brand, is cost-effective and tastes good too.
It contains Cetylpyridinium Chloride, a popular ingredient in alcohol free mouthwashes.
Just 20ml is all you need and it left my mouth fresh feeling for quite some time after use, without any alcohol burn.
- Alcohol free
- Cost effective
- From a reputable brand
- Wide availability
- Does not necessarily keep your mouth fresh all that long
Fresh Breath from the Breath Co – Best mouthwash for bad breath
|Thera Beath Icy Mint||526 Reviews||$ 29.95||View on Amazon|
My own personal testing left me a little disappointed by the results of this mouthwash — I do not suffer from bad breath though. For those that do, they speak very highly of this.
It is powerful and intense and certainly freshens the breath, I just didn’t get the extended feeling that was suggested.
It is not all that cheap, but certified Kosher, Halal and gluten free it is suitable for many including vegetarians and vegans.
With such positive ratings globally, it has got to be worth a go.
- Powerful and intense
- It does freshen the breath
- It works instantly
- Comes with a decent cap/cup for consuming each dosage
- Suitable for vegetarians, vegans
- Certified kosher and halal as well as being gluten free
- Invigorating Icy Mint is perhaps a little overpowering
- Sizeable dosages – too much?!
- Bottle design not all that appealing
- Over 12 hours of freshness is debatable
Colgate Savacol – Best mouthwash for gum disease
|Colgate Savacol||$ 9.49||View on Amazon|
It is one of the most well known, because it is so good at doing the job it is intended for, besides something prescribed there are few as highly regarded as this.
It contains chlorhexidine which essentially fights the harmful bacteria and microscopic organisms in the mouth that cause pain, discomfort, inflammation and bleeding.
Very effective, it is not to be used regularly unless explicitly directed as it can, temporarily at least stain the teeth. Savacol has a fresh mint flavour.
Chlorhxidine-containing mouthwashes should be used for a maximum of two weeks, with at least half an hour between using the mouthwash and brushing with toothpaste.
- Treats and prevents gum disease such as when gums bleed when brushed
- Soothes sore mouth and gums
- Improves and maintains oral hygiene
- Good value
- Well known and recommended product
- Does what it says it will
- Strong mouthwash with powerful ingredients
- Suitable for short term/prescribed use
- Can stain the teeth
- List of possible side effects
- Not an everyday mouthwash
Biotene – Best mouthwash for dry mouth
|Biotene Dry Mouth||3 Reviews||$ 13.49||View on Amazon|
Aside from how expensive it is to continually use this product and the not so pleasant taste of the mouthwash, it comes as a real relief to those suffering from ‘dry mouth’ a condition often caused as a side effect of taking certain medication.
Considerably more specialised, this alcohol free solution rehydrates the mouth and leave you feeling refreshed for longer, a real relief when suffering from dry mouth.
- Does what it should
- Nicely designed bottle and packaging
- Alcohol free
- Helps with things such as mouth ulcers as well as dry mouth
- The taste isn’t as nice as normal oral rinses
- The texture was off putting
- More expensive than some other every-day mouthwashes
- Doesn’t smell very pleasant
- There were no cap measurements so a spoon was needed
- Not sold in lots of outlets
Mouthwash Buyer’s Guide
I covered the key things to know about mouthwash at the start of this post.
In the sections below you can find some additional information to assist with your purchase.
What is and what does mouthwash do?
Mouthwash is a liquid, that is rinsed or gargled in the mouth.
The primary purpose, in most instances, is to offer a fresh and refreshed feeling to the mouth.
There are some types of mouthwash that go a little further and provide more specialised benefits.
Where a specialist product is used, the answer to the question, what does mouthwash do, will be slightly different.
As an example a fluoride rinse can help protect the teeth against acids produced by plaque bacteria and is not focused on freshness in quite the same way.
A mouthwash for dry mouth is focused on re-hydration.
Made up from a number of different ingredients, the combination, flavour and effectiveness of mouthwash varies from brand to brand.
Where once there was a fairly limited range, there is now a wide number of options including alcohol-free versions.
Is mouthwash bad for you?
No, mouthwash is not bad for you.
If used incorrectly, excessively or swallowed it can potentially be bad for you.
Specialist mouthwashes, such as those used to help treat gum disease can be bad for the teeth as they have a tendency to stain. However, such products will usually be specifically advised to you by a dentist and clear instructions will be given on how to use. In select instances, the risk of staining is outweighed by the other benefits the mouth rinse can bring.
Assuming you use mouthwash once, maybe twice a day and follow the directions of the mouthwash manufacturer then you will be fine.
This is what our in-house dentist Dr. Gemma Wheeler advises:
An alcohol-free mouthwash, used in addition to proper tooth brushing and interdental cleaning, may well have some benefit. Aim to use it at a separate time of day, for example after a snack, and at least half an hour before or after brushing.
If you have a specific disease which requires extra help to fight bacterial infection, specialist mouthwashes, such as those containing chlorhexidine or hydrogen peroxide, will help you get on top of the infection’.
Dr Gemma Wheeler – In-house dentist – GDC Number: 259369
The benefits of mouthwash
Here are some of the benefits of mouthwash. Not all apply to every mouthwash.
- Quick and easy to use – most bottles offer a cap built-in, ideal when on the go.
- Can leave your mouth feeling fresher and cleaner – quash the bad taste or odour you have that is caused by bacteria and plaque.
- Germ-fighting (antiseptic) ingredients – help fight gum disease, bacteria and pain suffered from dental treatment such as tooth extractions. Chlorhexidine is most highly regarded for this.
- Pain relief/sensitivity reduction – can soothe sensitive areas of the mouth.
- Fluoride – some have this included. It fights dental decay, protecting the teeth.
- Limited dexterity – makes it easier for those with limited dexterity where brushing and flossing is not easy.
- Orthodontics – helps fight bacteria and clean around orthodontic fittings
- Relief for dry mouth – the liquid itself provides some comfort, whilst the taste may get your salivary gland going to produce more saliva and also provide relief.
Drawbacks of mouthwash
- Does not cure bad breath – mouthwash is really only a mask for bad breath and does not treat the root cause.
- Alcohol content – this can be high in some products and may not be to everyone’s taste. It can dry the mouth out too. Over time it can even kill good bacteria. Some evidence points towards a link between these types of mouthwash and cancer.
- Staining – mouthwashes that contain Chlorhexidine can stain the teeth.
How to use mouthwash
So you now have the mouthwash you intend to use, now how do you use it?
- Use the right amount – use the amount indicated on the label or as directed by your dentist. Many come with caps with markers or measures so you can ensure you use the correct amount.
- Swish and gargle – keep your mouth closed and swish the liquid around the mouth or as directed on the label. Some choose to gargle with it too.
- Spit – don’t swallow mouthwash, it can potentially be harmful.
- Wait – to get the most benefit from a fluoride mouthwash, avoid eating or drinking for at least 30 minutes so you don’t wash away the residual rinse.
Most mouthwashes come out of the bottle ready to use. There are a few where it is recommended that you dilute them before use.
But, there is normally nothing stopping you from diluting the mouthwash further if you like. Not only will the bottle go further but it will reduce the intensity of the rinse if you find it to be too much.
Do be aware that whilst it is fine to dilute, the effects on your breath and oral hygiene may not be as great compared to using the manufacturer-recommended dose.
Use for the right amount of time.
Mouthwash is designed to be held in the mouth for a relatively short period of time. Consult the instructions and guidance for the mouthwash you use, but often 30-60 seconds is the recommended time you should use or leave mouthwash in the mouth for.
Please note: Always resort to the instructions for your mouthwash for directions on how to use. The following are a guideline only based on the typical mouthwash routine.
What studies say about mouthwash
Clinical trials have tested many different product. Various scenarios have been used to test different outcomes.
Results and conclusions differ slightly but the general trend seems to be that there are some benefits to be had, subject to your desired outcomes and the product used.
A 2015 publication by A Jose and team “Chlorhexidine mouthrinse with or without alcohol as an adjunct to brushing with regular fluoride toothpaste significantly reduces bleeding scores, plaque and gingival inflammation compared to brushing alone.”
A team from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul – UFRS, Faculty of Dentistry, Department of Periodontology, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil, concluded “mouthwash containing 0.075% CPC and 0.28% zinc lactate with 0.05% sodium fluoride in an alcohol-free base provided significantly greater reductions in Plaque, Plaque Interproximal, Gingival, Gingival Severity, and Gingival interproximal index after 4 and 6 weeks of product use as compared to a negative control mouthwash and a 0.07% CPC and 0.05% NaF mouthwash.”
And lastly, TheraBreath found “At the conclusion of a 24-hour clinical efficacy evaluation conducted in 30 subjects, TheraBreath Oral Rinse was associated with the following improvements: Malodour of the breath was significantly improved immediately after and 12 hours and 15 minutes after a single use of the test product. TheraBreath was the only product proven in the laboratory trial to last beyond 12 hours.”
Choosing the right mouthwash
Ideally we would love a mouthwash to taste of our favourite food or drink but leave us with the a lovely fresh breath feeling. Sadly this is not the always the case.
Mouthwashes do not always taste that great. It is not all about the taste, it is about the effectiveness of the mouthwash and how well it meets your needs.
As suggested earlier in the article there are different types of mouthwash suited to certain users and designed for specific purposes.
Most of us have tried a mouthwash at one time or another and therefore have an idea of what it is like to use and what it achieves. If you have not, then you may need to test a few to find the right one for you, unless you know you are looking for a mouthwash that targets a specific need.
The most popular types are typically Fluoride, Anti-plaque, Desensitising and Whitening.
You might then want to ask yourself what it is you want from a mouthwash.
Is it the best for bad breath, gum disease, dry mouth or just something to give you a boost of freshness?
Mouthwash vs rinse
A mouthwash is designed to freshen the breath, they are not to be used as a replacement to regular routines that include brushing and flossing. Primarily containing breath freshening ingredients, they can be purchased over the counter or straight from the shop shelves.
Few, unless specifically labelled include fluoride.
A rinse, on the other hand, is generally more targeted and designed to achieve or help with certain healthcare goals and aid in routines or treatment. Examples include a fluoride rinse to help fight against cavities, whilst a Chlorhexidine Gluconate rinse targets and kills bacteria associated with gum disease / gingivitis.
It is quite common that a dental professional will recommend a rinse if you need one.
With or without alcohol (alcohol free)
Alcohol is found in many mouthwashes due to its ability to fight off germs and bacteria that cause the bad breath and plaque build-up.
The concentration of alcohol varies, but can be as much as 25 percent.
For many, the strong alcohol consistency and taste can be unpleasant. During and post use, some may suffer from a mild burning sensation.
In addition to these drawbacks, some evidence points towards a potential link between alcohol-containing mouthwashes and cancer. This seems to be a higher risk if you smoke or drink alcohol, which are existing risk factors for oral cancer. There is yet to be any strong scientific studies to confirm that alcohol containing mouthwashes alone have a high risk for oral cancer.
However, there are alcohol free products that are just as effective.
CPC (cetylpyridinium chloride) is the ingredient found in many alcohol free mouthwashes. It binds to the surface of germs and causes them to burst, which helps reduce their build-up on the teeth.
If you are sensitive to the taste, or the mouthwash is to be used by a child or teenager, then alcohol free mouthwash is a great way to go.
Plaque forms as a result of a bacteria in the mouth. Food particles, moisture and pH levels in the mouth make a perfect environment for growth, but some mouthwashes have anti-plaque ingredients which can help control build up on the teeth and control bad breath too.
Sore and swollen gums can be painful, particularly if you have undergone surgery or some form of dental procedure.
Alcohol free mouthwash might be less irritating or sensitive on the tender parts of the mouth. Some contain ingredients which are soothing and more gentle on the teeth and gums.
Products like Savacol that contain chlorhexidine gluconate might be applicable. As might other rinses that contain benzydamine or hydrogen peroxide. An an anti-inflammatory, chlorhexidene can reduce the swelling and associated pain. These products should typically be used for a short period of time. Where you are looking for mouthwash or a rinse to soothe pain it is best to consult a dentist first.
More likely to be something you are recommended or advised to get by your dentist, a fluoride rinse protects your teeth from acids and bacteria by coating them and integrating with the enamel to in the long term fight against cavities. It essentially remineralises the teeth to support the development of enamel.
This is to be used in conjunction with, but not as an alternative to your regular brushing routine.
Chlorhexidine Gluconate rinse (If suffering from gum disease)
Chlorhexidine rinses help to control and kill the bacteria in your mouth that cause gum disease.
Quite often this is prescribed, due to the strength and risks attached to using. However, one popular product that does include this is Corsodyl as well as some other minor brands.
Chlorhexidine gluconate rinses are very effective, with 0.12% chlorhexidine gluconate, and 11.6% alcohol, in addition to the other antibacterial properties. An alcohol-free formula does exist.
This rinse is most helpful and most likely to be prescribed after a deep cleaning procedure such as tooth scaling and root planing.
The downside to this formula is that teeth can be left with brown stains as chlorhexidine is known to bind to both hard and soft tissues.
The prescribed rinse is likely to be for a short period of time, whilst recovering from treatment. It is advised to avoid consuming too much coffee, tea, red wine, or particular foods that are likely to stain.
Chlorhexidine mouthwashes may not be the best choice if you have tooth crowns or caps made of composite or glass ionomer.
Does Mouthwash Whiten Teeth?
Mouthwashes that are advertised as having teeth whitening effects often contain hydrogen peroxide and sodium fluoride to strengthen teeth.
Whilst hydrogen peroxide acts as a bleaching agent, its concentration in mouthwash is not strong enough to whiten teeth in the same way as professional whitening.
Using a whitening toothpaste together with a whitening mouthwash may help to remove stains from your teeth.
However, results are not guaranteed and depend on various factors.
Our in-house dentist Dr. Chhaya Chauhan explains about whitening mouthwash in the following video: