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What Is Mouthwash?

You know that you should visit the dentist every six months or even more often if you have gum disease. But did you know it’s your daily home care routine that makes the biggest difference in keeping your mouth healthy?

In addition to brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least once a day, you may also need to use a mouthwash or mouth rinse. There are a lot of over-the-counter varieties that are used to mask bad breath.  However, you may need a prescription-strength mouth rinse to treat the bacteria that’s causing the bad breath and other problems.

There are several kinds of bacteria in the mouth. One type attacks the enamel of the teeth and can cause cavities. In that case, you may need a mouthwash with extra fluoride to help prevent cavities. Another type of bacteria attacks the gums, causing inflammation and bleeding. Those are signs of periodontal disease, which is the leading case of tooth loss in adults over the age of 35. Three out of four adults have some form of periodontal disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. The earliest stage of the infection is called gingivitis.

Chlorhexidine is a therapeutic mouth rinse designed to treat an infection caused by bacteria, not a cosmetic mouth rinse designed just to mask bad breath or other symptoms. It’s often prescribed after a patient has had a deep cleaning, when the hygienist has scraped bacteria out of the pockets between the teeth and the gums. Chlorhexidine is able to stick inside the pockets and prevent more bacteria from forming while the area heals.

About six years ago, a federal judge ruled that a Listerine advertising campaign that suggested its mouthwash was as effective as dental floss in reducing dental plaque and gingivitis between teeth was false and misleading.  Mouthwash does not replace the need for brushing and flossing.

“They perform different jobs,” said Dr. Cindy Roark, Chief Clinical Director of Coast Dental.  “Floss removes bacteria from between the teeth.  Brushing removes bacteria on the surface of the teeth.  Prescription-strength mouthwash and mouth rinses fight the bacteria that cause either cavities or gum disease. They work together to keep you healthy.”

If you’re using a mouthwash or mouth rinse at home, take a minute to read the label.  In many cases, it will direct you to see a dentist if certain symptoms persist for more than two weeks. If that describes you, it’s time to make an appointment and ensure you’re using the right tools to keep your teeth healthy and in your mouth for a long time to come!

Reviewed by: Cindy Roark, DMD

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