While not a replacement for daily brushing and flossing, use of mouthwash (also called mouthrinse) may be a helpful addition to the daily dental hygiene routine for some people.

Why Use Mouthwash?

Just like dental floss, interdental brushes, and water flossers, mouthwash can get in between teeth. Reaching areas that your toothbrush can’t get to helps to reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease. Mouthwash can help:

  • Prevent or control tooth decay
  • Reduce plaque (a thin film of bacteria that forms on teeth) 
  • Prevent or reduce gingivitis (an early stage of gum disease) 
  • Reduce the speed that tartar (hardened plaque) forms on the teeth or to produce a combination of these effects
  • Freshen breath

Types of Mouthwash

There are two main types of mouthwashes:

  • Therapeutic mouthwashes. These have active ingredients that kill bacteria and can help reduce plaque, gingivitis, cavities and bad breath. Those that contain fluoride help prevent or reduce tooth decay.
  • Cosmetic mouthwashes. These may temporarily control or reduce bad breath and leave your mouth with a pleasant taste, but don’t reduce your risk of cavities or gum disease.

Some therapeutic mouthwashes require a prescription, but many mouthwashes are available over-the-counter. Talk to your dentist about whether you need a mouthwash and what kind of mouthwash to use, depending on your dental health needs.

When selecting an over-the-counter mouthwash, look for products that carry the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance, which means that they have been tested and shown to be safe and effective.

Mouthwash and Children

Mouthwash is not recommended for children younger than 6 years of age. They may accidentally swallow large amounts of the mouthwash, which can cause nausea, vomiting and intoxication (due to the alcohol content in some rinses). Check the label and follow specific precautions, instructions and age recommendations.