Should You Use Mouthwash?

Mouthwashes are a godsend if you’re living with bad breath or need to have your pearly whites in prime condition every day. A quick gargle and rinse and you’re ready to go! But with side effects that include pain and possible impact on your blood pressure, you may need to think twice before you reach for that rinse.

Why Use Mouthwash At All?

One reason many people use mouthwash is to keep their mouth feeling (and smelling) fresh. Others use it to avoid any unpleasant odors from wafting into people’s faces when they speak or stand near them. Some also use mouthwash for cosmetic purposes to whiten their teeth. According to experts from the Tufts School of Dental Medicine, if you’re using mouthwash just to clean your mouth of any debris or food stuck in it after a meal, plain water would do just as well. If, however, you have an underlying dental problem, a simple mouthwash won’t cut it. That’s where a therapeutic mouthwash, prescribed by an oral hygienist or dentist, comes in. These special mouthwashes contain active ingredients that address a range of problems from plaque buildup to canker sores or gum inflammation.1

Do You Need A Mouthwash?

If you have any of these oral health care problems, you may benefit from using therapeutic mouthwashes.

  • Bad breath which won’t be cured by a simple cosmetic mouthwash will need a medicated rinse. This is because the underlying problem causing your bad breath needs to be tackled and not just masked.2
  • Bleeding, swollen or tender gums, or other signs of gum disease like loose teeth or receding gums could also benefit from a mouthwash. For instance, a prescription antimicrobial mouth rinse can help with gingivitis or after gum surgery.3
  • If you cannot produce enough saliva on your own, your dentist may suggest a mouthwash that works as a substitute for saliva and alleviates problems like dry mouth.4
  • If you have trouble flossing or brushing, a mouthwash will protect you from developing gum disease and cavities. For example, an anti-cavity rinse with fluoride in it can protect your tooth enamel.5
  • If you’ve had any kind of periodontal surgery, you may need a special mouth rinse.
  • Recent and more radical uses of mouthwash include their use to rinse throat gonorrhea from your system after unprotected oral sex. This helps reduce infections from newer and more virulent forms of the bacteria.6

Ultimately, as the American Dental Association says, it is best left to your dentist to decide whether or not you need a mouthwash at all, and if so which one.7


The Problem With Mouthwash

Mouthwashes can be helpful if you need them to address a specific issue. But if using them causes other problems like pain, dryness in the mouth, or increased blood pressure that interfere with your life, you may want to reconsider your use of commercial rinses.

Raising Your Blood Pressure: Mouthwashes help flush out food debris, plaque, and bacteria from your mouth, leaving it feeling fresh. Unfortunately, while rinsing out the bad bacteria it also takes with it the good. And that’s why one research study found that it could actually lead to bigger problems like raising your blood pressure. According to the researchers, the antiseptic mouthwash caused oral nitrite production in the bodies of test subjects to drop by 90 percent. Their plasma nitrite levels also dipped 25 percent. The systolic as well as diastolic blood pressure of test subjects who used mouthwash went up by 2–3 .5 mm Hg, proportionate to the decline in levels of circulating nitrite concentrations. Using a mouthwash could, therefore, mess with the physiological control of your blood pressure.8


Dry Mouth: Ironically, while some mouthwashes are designed to be saliva substitutes that help keep your mouth moist, others could cause dryness. This used to be attributed to the alcohol in the mouthwash, but that may not be true. One study found that this perceived dryness of the mouth was no different whether subjects used an alcohol-based or alcohol-free rinse.9 To sidestep the issue, simply look for natural alternatives.

Pain: Using a mouthwash should not cause you any pain. Sometimes, however, the ethanol and other ingredients (as yet not identified by researchers) in an alcohol-based rinse could bring on this problem.10 If you have a soft tissue injury already, steer clear of alcohol-based mouthwashes.


Burning Sensation: Mouthwashes, even the alcohol-free ones, can sometimes cause a burning sensation in the mouth. While it was assumed that alcohol might be to blame, one study found these effects manifested even with an alcohol-free rinse.11

Fear Of Cancer Risk: The connection between mouthwash usage and cancer has been controversial. While some earlier research found a possible link, more recent studies have been unable to confirm that mouthwash usage increases the risk of developing cancer of the upper aerodigestive tract.12 The earlier studies are also under the scanner because they looked only at highly excessive usage of mouthwash – which most people don’t really resort to. Researchers evaluating evidence from previous studies also cited other limitations and concluded that there wasn’t enough epidemiological evidence to back up claims that alcohol-containing mouthwash use can be connected to oral cancers.13


The Natural Alternative

There are some easy ways to cure bad breath naturally. Watching what you eat; chewing on natural mouth fresheners like cloves, fennel, lemon rind, or cardamom seeds; drinking enough water; and checking for deficiencies are just some natural alternatives to using a mouthwash. Just find a convenient option that works well for you, and you should be able to carry on with great smelling breath, anytime, anywhere.