Antiseptic Vs. Antibacterial Mouthwash: Which Should You Use?

Mouthwashes contain many confusing labels that make your choice difficult. Find out the difference between antiseptic and antibacterial mouthwashes, along with what other labels mean, so you can make the choice that’s best for you.

7 min readAntiseptic Vs. Antibacterial Mouthwash: Which Should You Use?

Mouthwashes have become one of the most popular, quick, and easy solutions to tooth and mouth-related health issues. Not only do they help to prevent bad breath, but certain mouthwashes also work to reduce the risk of cavities and other oral health problems. There are a lot of choices for mouthwashes on the market today that leave consumers wondering what to choose, especially with labels like “antiseptic” and “antibacterial” offering added confusion.

With this article, we aim to put your debate on antiseptic vs. antibacterial mouthwash to rest. Read on to learn which type of mouthwash is right for you and your family.

Antiseptic Mouthwash: A Quick Look

Colgate describes antiseptics as agents that work against various microbes that could be harmful to your health. By using them in mouthwash, they essentially coat your entire mouth in protection against infection.

Antiseptic mouthwash comes in two forms: alcohol-based and non-alcohol based. Alcohol-based antiseptics should be used carefully, as they can cause dryness or irritation when used too frequently. Non-alcohol-based antiseptics are usually gentler on the mouth and gums but are not as effective at killing bacteria.

Antibacterial Mouthwash: A Quick Look

Put simply, antibacterial mouthwash’s main use is to target bacteria. This is done through antibacterial agents, or antibiotics, which, according to the Microbiology Society, are used to kill existing bacteria or prevent new bacteria from forming.

These mouthwashes can help manage bad breath, as well as prevent cavities and gum disease, which are all caused by bacteria. However, it is important to remember that the use of antibacterial agents should not be overused; too much use could lead to antibiotic resistance.

Differences Between Antiseptic And Antibacterial Mouthwash

The main difference between antiseptic vs. antibacterial mouthwash is that they target different harmful substances in the mouth: antiseptic covers against a wide range of microbes, while antibacterial targets bacteria specifically.

Antiseptic mouthwash is designed to kill a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi. It breaks down the protective outer coating of the cell membrane of microbes, and A combination of chemical antiseptics and essential oils like menthol or thymol work together to reduce bacterial levels in the mouth. This helps prevent bad breath, cavities, gingivitis, and other dental issues.

Antibacterial mouthwash is designed to target and kill bacteria specifically. It contains active ingredients like triclosan or cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) that interfere with the proteins that help bacteria to survive. This reduces the number of certain types of bacteria in the mouth that can cause bad breath and increase your risk of cavities.

Is Antiseptic Mouthwash Better Than Antibacterial?

This answer depends on what specific issues you want your mouthwash to target. If you have bad breath, for example, the American Dental Association recommends an antimicrobial wash, otherwise known as an antiseptic. If you’re looking to treat a specific infection or reduce your risk of gingivitis and gum disease, then an antibacterial mouthwash is likely your best bet.

Additional Types Of Mouthwash

As mentioned previously, antiseptic mouthwashes can go under the name “antimicrobial”, and antibacterial mouthwashes can be called “antibiotic” or “antifungal”. These names typically denote the same properties, but you should always check the “Uses” portion of the drug facts label to see whether the product is intended for your specific problem.

There are plenty of mouthwashes advertised for specific health functions, such as protection against cavities or dry mouth. There are also those for cosmetic purposes, like mouthwashes for teeth whitening and those with attractive flavors. Healthline has its best mouthwashes for all of these categories and explains that the choice is entirely up to the preferences and needs of the consumer.

Do Antiseptic Mouthwashes Work?

Antiseptic mouthwashes do work, but only if you're using them for their intended purpose (and with regular oral hygiene practices). Antiseptic mouthwashes are designed to kill microbes that can cause bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. They also help reduce the risk of developing cavities and periodontal disease.

When used in combination with brushing and flossing, antiseptic mouthwashes can help reduce plaque buildup and improve oral hygiene. Antiseptic mouthwash should not be used as a replacement for brushing and flossing—rather, it should be used as an additional tool to help maintain oral health.

If you want to learn more about mouthwashes, read on for our answers to the most commonly asked questions below!

Is It Okay To Use Antiseptic Mouthwash Every Day?

Mouthwash labels often recommend daily use, but you should always consider your reactions when deciding how often to use yours. While some people use mouthwash every day without any issues, others may have an adverse reaction from using it too often.

Potential side effects of daily mouthwash use include tooth sensitivity, mouth irritation, and dryness of the mouth or throat. Dehydration can be caused by the alcohol content in many types of mouthwash, so be conscious of the percentage listed on the label.

When using an antiseptic mouthwash, it’s important to be aware of the ingredients and their potential side effects. Some contain chlorhexidine, a chemical that causes staining if used too often.

You should always check the Drug Facts label to see what your mouthwash contains and do your research. In addition, check the “Use” instructions to make sure you are using the product according to the manufacturer's instructions.

One of the possible situations to not use your mouthwash daily is after a dental extraction. After having a tooth pulled, your dentist will likely advise you not to use any mouthwash for at least 24 hours. This is because the active ingredients in most mouthwashes can irritate the wound and cause unnecessary discomfort. Additionally, it can slow down the process of healing by preventing blood clots from forming properly. To ensure that you get proper healing, make sure to avoid using any form of mouthwash after a tooth extraction until your dentist has cleared you to do so.

What Type Of Mouthwash Is Best?

Again, you should choose the mouthwash that is best for you and your individual needs. Read the “Uses” labels of various bottles of mouthwash and do your own research online to find a product that suits your needs, or ask your dentist what the best mouthwash for you might be.

In terms of antiseptic vs. antibacterial mouthwash, if you’re looking for a good all-around product without a specific use, an antiseptic might be the way to go since it covers so many microbes.

Is Antiseptic Mouthwash Toxic?

The answer is yes and no. Most antiseptic mouthwashes contain alcohol, which can be toxic in large amounts, but when used as directed, they are generally safe and effective.

The most common active ingredient in mouthwash is alcohol, found on the label as ethanol. Alcohol helps kill germs on contact but can also dry out your mouth if used in large amounts or for a long time. Sometimes, alcohol irritates the soft tissues in your mouth and causes a mouthwash burn sensation as well.

Some alcohol-free versions or mouthwashes are available, which may be better for people with sensitive mouths or those who find that alcohol dries out their mouths too much. Still, alcohol-based and antiseptic mouthwashes are safe to use overall.

Which Mouthwash Is Most Effective Against Bacteria?

No one type of mouthwash is most effective against bacteria because there are so many different types that all have different weaknesses. Generally speaking, though, there are a few key components to look for in your search for the best bacteria-fighting mouthwash.

The first component to look for is the active ingredient in the mouthwash. Alcohol-based mouthwashes usually contain ethyl alcohol or ethanol as the active ingredient, which helps kill off bacteria and reduce bad breath. Most non-alcohol-based varieties utilize antibacterial agents, such as chlorhexidine gluconate or essential oils, to help freshen breath and fight bacteria. Both are effective, but it depends on your preference for alcohol in your mouthwash.

The second-most important factor to consider when selecting a mouthwash is its effectiveness at reducing plaque buildup on teeth, which is caused by bacteria. A good rule of thumb is to look for mouthwashes that contain an antibacterial agent, such as triclosan or cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC).

The final component to look out for when targeting bacteria with your mouthwash purchase is the concentration of the active ingredient. Higher concentrations are usually more effective at killing bacteria, but they have the potential to irritate if used too frequently. To find out which concentration is right for you, and which aspect of oral health your mouthwash should target, make sure to speak with your dentist.

Of course, you should check the expiration date of your mouthwash before using it to make sure it is still effective against bacteria. When a mouthwash expires, the ingredients are no longer potent enough to fight off any microorganisms that can cause bad breath or other oral health problems.

What Is The Healthiest Mouthwash?

"Healthy" is relative to each person, especially when it comes to mouthwash. For some, antiseptic mouthwash will help with all their dental problems, while others find help through antibacterial mouthwashes. Still, others are too irritated by alcohol-based mouthwashes to use them, while some find it to be the perfect solution.

You need to understand your needs through dentist evaluation, then use their advice and your judgment to pick the product that will address your needs effectively without any harmful mouthwash effects.

Is Antiseptic Mouthwash Good For Tooth Infection?

WebMD recommends antiseptic or fluoride mouth rinses specifically as helpful in preventing tooth infections. Antiseptic mouthwashes contain active ingredients such as cetylpyridinium chloride or chlorhexidine which help to kill bacteria and other germs that can cause tooth decay. It is important to note, however, that antiseptic rinses will not necessarily cure an existing infection; they are only helpful in preventing new infections from occurring.

Can Mouthwash Get Rid Of Abscesses?

Antibiotics are not a cure, but they can help to kill the bacteria that caused an abscess and prevent it from spreading. They also recommend using a simple saltwater rinse to reduce pain. So the short answer is no, but mouthwash may be helpful until you have the opportunity to talk to your dentist or orthodontist.

What Is The Difference Between Alcohol-Based And Non-Alcoholic Mouthwashes?

Alcohol-based mouthwashes contain menthol and thymol. These are active ingredients that help kill germs while providing a pleasant, cooling sensation. Some alcohol-based mouthwashes also contain antiseptic agents that help reduce the number of bacteria in the mouth cavity.

Non-alcoholic mouthwashes often contain herbal extracts or essential oils. These milder ingredients provide antibacterial action with less harshness than alcohol. Some also contain ingredients like fluoride or xylitol that help keep teeth and gums healthy.

When choosing between alcohol-based and non-alcoholic mouthwashes, like any mouthwash, the answer depends on your preference and needs. For those who are looking to kill germs, an alcohol-based mouthwash may be the better choice. These products can provide strong antibacterial protection against oral bacteria that cause bad breath and cavities. Non-alcoholic mouthwashes, on the other hand, may be better for those who are sensitive to alcohol or prefer a milder product.

What Is Antifungal Mouthwash?

Antifungal mouthwash is another form of antibacterial mouthwash that targets fungi specifically. These fungi can cause thrush, a common infection in the mouth, and other oral health problems.

Antifungal mouthwashes contain active ingredients like nystatin or clotrimazole that help kill these fungal organisms. This means the product is tailored to help people with these issues, and you should seek out a different form of mouthwash for more general bacterial issues.

What’s The Verdict?

As for any choice pertaining to your health, you should be conscious of your needs, desires, and problems when choosing between antiseptic vs. antibacterial mouthwash.

Both offer benefits and drawbacks: antiseptic mouthwash can help fight bacteria and freshen your breath, while antibacterial mouthwash fights germs and helps reduce plaque buildup.

Ultimately, the choice is yours and depends on what you’re looking for in a mouthwash product. Talk to your dentist or doctor before choosing one over the other so you can make an informed decision about which option will work best for you.