When it comes to toothbrushing, I’m not just diligent but obsessive. I brush after every meal, every cup of coffee or tea, every instance of having to wear a mask for an extended time (mask mouth is pretty gross). I’ve practiced this ritual for as long as I can remember, because the mere thought of having leftover food or a sour taste in my mouth gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Nothing wrong with that, right? I’m dentally conscious, after all. Except that I go through toothpaste like athletes go through sports drinks. I’m always wrestling with the sticky, mangled tube to grunt out the last squirt.
Recently I realized that I could probably make my life a lot easier if, instead of carrying my toothbrush and toothpaste everywhere I go, I just slipped a portable bottle of mouthwash into my purse. But besides acting as a temporary remedy to post-meal halitosis, does mouthwash offer any real dental benefits? I decided to go down a rabbit hole and find out.
It turns out that, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), mouthwash — also called mouthrinse — offers a whole slew of therapeutic benefits. Some forms of mouthwash are merely cosmetic in that they cover up bad breath, but therapeutic mouthwashes can actually improve your oral health.
Here are some of the major benefits of adding mouthwash to your oral-hygiene routine — along with specific brands that act as more than just a bandaid for your breath.
Mouthwash Can Help Prevent Cavities
Move over, flossing — you’re too painful on my gums. It turns out that mouthwashes containing fluoride can also prevent dental decay. A Cochrane systematic review updated in 2016 found that, in children aged 6 to 14 years, “there is a 27% reduction in decayed, missing and filled tooth surfaces in permanent teeth with fluoride mouthrinse compared with placebo or no mouthrinse. This benefit is likely to be present even if children use fluoride toothpaste or live in water-fluoridated areas.” Additionally, the study found “an average 23% reduction in decayed, missing and filled teeth (rather than tooth surfaces) in permanent teeth with fluoride mouthrinse compared with placebo or no mouthrinse.” As a science nerd, I’m rather impressed with these results.
Here are a few affordable products that contain cavity-fighting fluoride:
At $6.56 per liter, this fresh-mint-flavored mouthwash claims to help prevent cavities, restore enamel, and kill 99.9% of bad-breath germs. The purple color freaks me out a bit, but this product is rated 3.9 stars on Walmart.com. Most reviewers describe this solution as the “best” or a “great” fluoride mouthwash, although one user complained that “skin peels from my inner cheeks and lips in large quantities.” Apparently, Listerine reps describe this as an uncommon side effect.
For $3.73 per liter, this product claims to restore enamel and help remineralize soft spots. The mouthwash has a soothing blue color to match its refreshing mint flavor. Equate’s product has a 4.5-star rating on Walmart.com, with reviewers reporting that it’s “cheap but effective” and “tastes good.” However, one grumpy customer complained that “this is not like it used to be” because “Walmart seems to have changed alot [sic] of ingredients and re-formulated some of their products.” Oh well, change is inevitable.
This product is an alcohol-free solution for $6.97 per 32 fluid ounces. Crest’s version claims to strengthen enamel, whiten teeth (by removing surface stains), and prevent cavities. The liquid appears to be white, which is probably part of the marketing ploy, and the flavor is described as wintermint (mm, like a wintergreen Life Saver?). Crest’s mouthwash is rated 4.5 stars on Walmart.com, with many customers reporting that it’s their “favorite.” As some users pointed out, however, this product contains hydrogen peroxide; one person noted that this ingredient “caused me to vomit. I threw it in the trash.” Still, others preferred the peroxide to the “burning alcohol taste” of typical mouthwashes.
Mouthwash Can Help Fight Infection
If you’ve never had a mouth ulcer, consider yourself lucky. Spoiler alert: they’re painful. And if, like me, you’re a sucker for spicy foods, you’re inevitably going to make them feel worse when you shovel down that Thai curry. Fortunately, many mouthwashes contain antiseptic and antimicrobial agents like essential oils (e.g., eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, and thymol) that fight infection-causing bacteria.
Wait, what? Essential oils aren’t just aromatherapy pseudoscience? I did a skeptical double-take, too. But it turns out that research repeatedly confirms the antibacterial properties of essential oils. Mouth sores (and other infections), be gone!
Here are a few antiseptic mouthwashes to meet your microbe-killing needs:
This mouthwash, at $5.53 per liter, claims to kill 99.9% of germs that cause bad breath, plaque, and gingivitis. The liquid has a dark yellow, almost-gold appearance, which aesthetically weirds me out more than the purple stuff. Still, this mouthwash has a 4.8-star rating on Walmart.com, with users calling it a “must have” and “great product.” A few customers did complain about the “awful” taste or smell, with some even describing it as “disgusting.” But several noted that the mouthwash performed well enough to outweigh the unpleasant sensory experience. Mellow yellow?
A stark visual contrast to Listerine’s weird colors, Equate’s version is again a calming form of sea green — with a spicy-mint flavor. For $5.88, you get a two-count package totaling 101.4 fluid ounces. This product makes a blanket claim that it kills germs that cause plaque, gingivitis, and bad breath (without the exact 99.9% promise). It does advise you to compare its active ingredients to Listerine — basically, they both contain antiseptic essential oils. This mouthwash is also rated 4.8 stars on Walmart.com, with many users professing their “love” for the product and its “great minty taste.” As a spicy-food enthusiast, I’m definitely intrigued by the flavor. However, a few users reported that “you’ll be cryin’!” from the burn and that it “turned my tongue bluish green.”
Here’s an alcohol-free version of your antiseptic avenger. For $9.12 per 500 milliliters, this mouthwash claims to help promote healing or oral sores, irritations, and burns. The bottle isn’t transparent, but the liquid is described as having an aqua-blue color with a “mild mint” flavor. Colgate’s product has a 4.8-star rating on Walmart.com, with customers calling the rinse “great” or “wonderful,” and not just for mouth sores — one user reported that it’s the “best mouth rinse for thrush” caused by inhaler use. This mouthwash received very few one-or-two star reviews, and one was due to a packaging issue (the “nozzle was missing”). Another user expressed that “IT WORKS” but, on the negative side, it “tastes like Pepto Bismol with added mint and peroxide flavor.” Now that’s a non-alcoholic cocktail I can’t untaste.
Mouthwash Can Help Reduce Plaque and Prevent Gum Disease
So far, the therapeutic ingredients of mouthwash have been easy to pronounce. Ready for this one? Say cetylpyridinium chloride 10 times fast (just kidding, it’s often shortened to CPC). CPC is widely recognized for its anti-plaque and gingivitis-inhibiting properties.
Specifically, studies show that, “when formulated at concentrations of 0.045% to 0.1% with at least 72% to 77% chemically available cetylpyridinium chloride,” CPC provides a clinically meaningful benefit in reducing plaque and gingivitis. According to this research, “reductions ranged from 15% to 24% for gingivitis, 27% to 67% for bleeding, and 16% to 28% for plaque.”
Basically, plaque is that sticky, nasty, bacteria-ridden film that builds up on your teeth, and too much of that can cause gum disease (gingivitis). I’ve been lucky to avoid this condition, but the symptoms — redness, irritation, and swelling — seem unpleasant.
Here are a few options for mouthwashes that contain CPC:
At $4.97 per 24 fluid ounces, this product simply claims that it reduces plaque and freshens breath. It’s another one of those liquids that has an odd, off-yellow, brownish-gold color. Cepacol doesn’t advertise its flavor in the product description, but according to customer reviews, it tastes like some sort of medicine-y mint. This mouthwash has a 4.6-star rating on Walmart.com, with customers calling it a “great product” that “kills germs best.” Some users note that the product “is not overpowering or burning like Listerine.” Negative comments generally cited the “terrible” or “bad-bad-bad” taste, along with some complaints of dry mouth. Still, I’m pretty sure that a plaque party in your mouth tastes worse.
I have to say, Equate’s rinses definitely win the award for most aesthetically inviting. Rather than ocean blue, this one looks to be a kind of gentle, soothing spring green. At $2.96 per 50 fluid ounces, this mouthwash claims to kill germs and leave your mouth feeling clean and refreshed with its mint-fresh flavor. The product has a rating of 4.7 stars on Walmart.com and mostly glowing reviews, with users comparing it to the original Scope and enjoying the “tingly sensation.” As one customer eloquently put it, if “you want fresh breath like blowing out ice glaciers with a 10-acre field of mint, then this gargle pint is for you!” Negative reviews cited the product’s packaging and that the site didn’t list all the ingredients. To me, this mouthwash is the one that most reminds me of a breezy day at the beach.
At $6.97 per 32 fluid ounces, Crest touts this product as “our most advanced rinse ever.” According to the label, the mouthwash “reduces plaque and even helps prevent plaque regrowth,” “helps prevent and even helps reverse gingivitis in 2 weeks,” and “kills 99% of germs to improve breath.” A bold claim means an equally bold flavor; this one is described as “deep clean mint.”
But wait, there’s more — this white solution apparently foams up in your mouth! The clinical mouthwash has a 4.6-star rating on Walmart.com, and users report that it’s “great for the fight against gingivitis” and that it “keeps my breath fresh all night until morning.” As with other alcohol-free rinses, this mouthwash does contain peroxide, which some customers complained gave it a “bad aftertaste” or “made my tongue feel like it was burnt.” Honestly, this one just makes me think of those happy, animated scrubbing bubbles going to town on your teeth.
Of course, there are plenty of other options on the market depending on your specific needs. Maybe your simple purpose for mouthwash is so you can get through date night with your beau after unlimited breadsticks at Olive Garden, and that’s perfectly okay. And if you’re wary of toting around a liquid container in your purse (lest you trip and ignite a sticky mint explosion all over its contents), you have options, too — Bite Mouthwash Bits are portable mouthwash tablets that you just bite, sip (with water), and swish.
The best part? They’re sustainable! This company keeps its products “zero waste” by eliminating plastic packaging, opting instead for recyclable glass and cardboard. The fresh-mint Bits, rated 5 stars by customers, cost $20 for a four-month supply and a travel tin.
Hey, if you’re cleaning your teeth and gums, may as well clean the planet while you’re at it.
Have you added mouthwash to your daily routine? Share your experience in the comments!
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