Dentist-Approved Tips For Picking The Right Mouthwash

Looking to freshen your breath, reduce plaque, or improve your oral health? Check out our guide for dentist-approved tips to choose a mouthwash that suits your unique needs and keeps a healthy smile.

8 min readDentist-approved Tips For Picking The Right Mouthwash

Are you one of the millions of people who use mouthwash every day? If so, have you ever stopped to consider whether you're using the right one for your needs?

According to this statistic 199.56 million Americans used mouthwash / dental rinse in 2020, but many may not choose the right product. Knowing how to choose mouthwash can make a world of difference to your oral health.

This handy guide will provide you with expert tips for choosing the right mouthwash and maintaining a healthy, fresh smile. So, let's dive in and explore these mouthwash options so you can choose the right one the first time!

Mouthwash And Your Oral Health: Overview

Mouthwash is a popular oral hygiene product that has been used for centuries to freshen breath, kill bacteria, and promote good oral health.

When used correctly, mouthwash can provide numerous benefits to your oral health. It can help kill harmful bacteria that cause bad breath and reduce the risk of gum disease. Some mouthwashes are effective for at-home teeth whitening that you can complement with natural teeth whitening remedies, while others contain fluoride, strengthening enamel and preventing decay.

However, choosing the right mouthwash for your specific needs is essential. For example, if you have sensitive teeth or gums, you may opt for a mouthwash free of alcohol or other harsh ingredients. You can count alcohol and strong flavoring agents as reasons your mouthwash burns.

It's also important to note that mouthwash should never be used as a substitute for proper brushing and flossing. While mouthwash can freshen your breath and kill bacteria, it cannot remove plaque and food particles from your teeth and gums like brushing and flossing.

Types Of Mouthwash

With so many types of mouthwash available, it can be challenging to know which one is right for you. Whether you're looking to simply combat bad breath or prevent gum disease, there's a mouthwash out there that can help you achieve your oral health goals.

Generally speaking, mouthwash can be divided into two categories: cosmetic mouthwash and therapeutic mouthwash.

Let's take a closer look at each one below.

Cosmetic Mouthwash

Cosmetic mouthwash is primarily designed to freshen breath and provide a temporary minty or fruity taste in the mouth. This type of mouthwash usually contains a combination of ingredients, such as alcohol, that help to kill bacteria and neutralize odors, as well as essential oils or flavorings, to provide a pleasant taste and smell.

While cosmetic mouthwash can freshen breath and promote a clean feeling in the mouth, it does not offer any significant health benefits beyond that. In fact, some cosmetic mouthwashes may even contain high levels of alcohol, which can be harmful to the oral tissues and cause dry mouth and canker sores instead of preventing them.

Therapeutic Mouthwash

Therapeutic mouthwash or dentist-recommended mouthwash is designed to offer specific health benefits to the mouth and teeth. Active ingredients, such as fluoride and antimicrobial agents, are often present in this type of mouthwash, which are useful for preventing or treating dental conditions, including cavities, gum disease, and bad breath.

For example, fluoride mouthwash can strengthen tooth enamel and prevent decay, particularly for people at an increased risk of cavities. Meanwhile, antimicrobial mouthwash can kill bacteria that cause gum disease and other oral infections.

Therapeutic mouthwash is available over the counter and by prescription, depending on the specific condition being treated. Your dentist or dental hygienist can help you choose the right type of therapeutic mouthwash for your needs.

While both cosmetic and therapeutic mouthwash is helpful in promoting good oral health, therapeutic mouthwash is typically the better choice for people looking to prevent or treat specific dental conditions.

Choosing A Mouthwash: Things To Look For

When it comes to maintaining good oral hygiene, brushing and flossing are just the beginning. Adding mouthwash to your routine can provide a multitude of benefits, depending on what the active ingredient is.

In selecting a mouthwash, you should take note of the following ingredients that can help promote optimal oral health:


Fluoride is a mineral that strengthens tooth enamel and prevents tooth decay. It is also said to play a significant role in the prevention of caries and in improving oral and dental health. For this reason, many dentists recommend fluoride mouthwash as part of your oral hygiene routine.

When children are using the solution, it's important to supervise them closely and teach them how to rinse properly to prevent any swallowing accidents. For maximum effectiveness, avoid eating, drinking, or rinsing your mouth for at least 30 minutes after using the solution.

Cetylpyridinium Chloride

Cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) is an antimicrobial agent that is often found in therapeutic mouthwashes. CPC has been found to inhibit the growth and maturation of dental plaque and can also prevent the proliferation of bacteria responsible for gum disease.

As an active ingredient, this can reduce the likelihood of developing gingivitis, which is characterized by inflamed and bleeding gums. Ultimately, regular use of CPC-containing products can lead to an improvement in overall oral hygiene.

Essential Oils

Essential oils, such as tea tree oil, peppermint oil, and eucalyptus oil, are often added to mouthwash for their antiseptic and antibacterial properties. These oils can help to kill harmful bacteria in the mouth, freshen your breath, and promote good oral health.

Be aware that mouthwashes with essential oils shouldn't be used on a daily basis as their potent antibacterial properties may disturb the balance of good bacteria in your oral microbiome. In turn, this can lead to the elimination of beneficial bacteria that prevent cavities and gum disease.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most potent oxidizing agents recognized, with greater strength than chlorine, chlorine dioxide, and potassium permanganate. This is also a common ingredient in whitening mouthwash.

However, it's important to use this type of mouthwash with caution, as hydrogen peroxide can be harsh on oral tissues and cause sensitivity or irritation.

In addition to these ingredients, it's also wise to consider other factors, such as your specific oral health needs, any allergies or sensitivities you may have, the expiration date of the mouthwash, and the overall quality of the product.

By looking for ingredients like fluoride, CPC, essential oils, and hydrogen peroxide, you can find a mouthwash that works for your specific needs to maintain your oral health and improve your smile.

Which Oral Health Conditions Does Mouthwash Address?

While brushing and flossing are essential components of oral hygiene, mouthwash can provide an added layer of protection against various oral health conditions.

Below are a number of oral health conditions that mouthwash can help treat:

Halitosis (Bad Breath)

Halitosis, or bad breath, is a common oral health condition that affects approximately one out of four people worldwide. Various factors, including poor oral hygiene, gum disease, and certain medical conditions, can cause it. Mouthwash can be an effective tool in combating bad breath because it kills the bacteria responsible for producing odors in the mouth.


Gingivitis is a type of gum disease that is caused by the buildup of plaque on the teeth. It is characterized by red, swollen, and bleeding gums. An antibacterial mouthwash can diminish plaque buildup, eliminate bacteria below the gum line, and kill bacteria on oral surfaces other than teeth, such as the tongue and cheeks.


Many people use mouthwash to whiten their teeth. Mouthwash addresses teeth whitening in two different ways: through the physical removal of surface stains and the use of active ingredients to penetrate deeper and remove deeper stains.

When carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide is present as active components in mouthwash, it may aid in reducing extrinsic stains by penetrating deeper into the tooth enamel. It may also contain surfactants or detergents that physically remove surface stains from teeth.

Dry Mouth

A dry mouth is a condition that occurs when the mouth doesn't produce enough saliva. This can lead to bad breath, tooth decay, and other oral health issues. It is recommended to use a mouthwash specifically formulated for dry mouth, particularly those containing xylitol, which can also provide a defense against tooth decay.

Avoid using mouthwashes that contain alcohol, as they can exacerbate dryness.

Alveolar Osteitis

Also known as dry socket, alveolar osteitis is a painful condition that can occur after tooth extraction. So, should you use mouthwash after tooth extraction? While mouthwash can aid in maintaining oral hygiene, it is advisable to refrain from using an oral rinse for the initial 24 hours following a dental procedure or tooth extraction.

This is because rinsing your mouth may agitate the healing tissue, resulting in blood clot dislodgment and revealing the surgical sites. Afterward, you can then use a mouthwash containing anesthetic agents to relieve alveolar osteitis pain.

Is There A Whitening Mouthwash For Sensitive Teeth?

There are several brands of whitening mouthwash that are specifically formulated for sensitive teeth. It is common for these mouthwashes to contain an ingredient that is gentle on teeth and gums, such as potassium nitrate.

Potassium nitrate works by blocking the tiny tubules in the dentin of the tooth that can cause sensitivity to hot, cold, or acidic foods and drinks. Also, this can be used to minimize gum sensitivity by inhibiting nerve signals that cause discomfort and pain.

How Do I Know What Mouthwash To Use?

Choosing the right mouthwash depends on your specific concerns and needs. Some factors to consider when selecting a mouthwash include your oral health, alcohol content, active ingredients, and taste.

Consult with your dentist or dental hygienist regarding the most suitable mouthwash for your specific needs, as they can offer personalized suggestions based on your dental history and present requirements. If you have dental conditions that require special care, this is especially recommended.

What Is The Most Important Ingredient In Mouthwash?

Typically, the most important ingredient in mouthwash is the active ingredient, which is responsible for killing bacteria and freshening breath. The specific active ingredient can vary depending on the type of mouthwash and its intended purpose.

For example, many types of mouthwash contain antimicrobial agents, such as chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC), or essential oils like thymol and eucalyptol. The ingredients in these products help kill bacteria and reduce plaque, gingivitis, and bad breath.

Other common ingredients found in mouthwash include water, alcohol, flavorings, sweeteners, and preservatives.

What Is The Healthiest Mouthwash To Use?

The healthiest mouthwash for an individual depends on their specific oral health needs and personal preferences. That said, alcohol-free mouthwash is regarded as a better option for maintaining healthy teeth. Mouthwash containing alcohol can erode your enamel or burn your gums when you rinse.

What Should A Good Mouthwash Contain?

A good mouthwash should contain an active ingredient that can effectively kill bacteria, freshen your breath, and provide the specific benefit you require. The active ingredient can vary depending on the type of mouthwash and its intended purpose. This may include antimicrobial agents, such as chlorhexidine or CPC, fluoride to prevent tooth decay, and essential oils like peppermint or eucalyptus to freshen breath.

It's also worthwhile to consider using a mouthwash that is alcohol-free or contains natural ingredients that are gentle on the gums.

Which Mouthwash Kills The Most Bacteria?

Antiseptic and antibacterial mouthwashes are designed to kill mouth bacteria, but they work in different ways.

Antiseptic mouthwashes contain an active ingredient, such as chlorhexidine or CPC, that can effectively eliminate bacteria and reduce plaque in the mouth. These types of mouthwashes are often prescribed by dentists to treat or prevent gum disease, as they can effectively kill bacteria that contribute to gum inflammation and infection.

Antibacterial mouthwashes, on the other hand, typically contain triclosan or essential oils. These ingredients can also kill bacteria but are less potent than antiseptic agents.

Considering the antiseptic vs. antibacterial mouthwash debate, both offer similar benefits. However, antiseptic mouthwash also targets spores and fungi. Alcohol in antiseptic mouthwash eliminates a wide range of microbes from the mouth.

You should follow the instructions on using antiseptic mouthwash carefully, as too much can stain your teeth and change your mouth feel.

Is It healthy To Use Mouthwash Every Day?

If you’re considering if mouthwash is bad to use daily, fret not. It can be a healthy addition to an individual's oral hygiene routine, but be sure to use it correctly and not overuse it.

Dentists typically prescribe antimicrobial mouthwashes for short-term use to help treat or prevent gum disease. Fluoride mouthwash can, however, strengthen teeth and prevent tooth decay if used every day.

The Bottom Line

Choosing the right mouthwash is essential for maintaining good oral hygiene, but there are so many options that it can be overwhelming. Your oral health needs and preferences must be taken into consideration when choosing a mouthwash. You can also receive specific recommendations from your dentist.

Ultimately, maintaining a consistent oral hygiene routine that includes brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash can go a long way in promoting good oral health.