Is Mouthwash Bad for You? Full Guide 2023

Fresh breath or harmful health? By reading this extensive guide, you will learn the truth about using mouthwash and if it is really harmful or actually beneficial to your oral health.

8 min readIs Mouthwash Bad for You?

While mouthwash can leave your breath smelling fresh, there are questions about its potential impact on our health.

There is no denying the immense popularity that mouthwash has garnered. By the end of 2032, mouthwash is projected to generate an astonishing $15.7 billion in total sales.

This in-depth guide covers everything you need to know about mouthwash, including its benefits, drawbacks and the most frequently answered questions to ultimately help you answer: "Is mouthwash bad for you?"

Is Mouthwash Bad For Your Health?

When used properly, mouthwash has several benefits, including freshening your breath, reducing plaque buildup, and preventing gum disease.

In fact, mouthwash has been used for centuries. Although mouthwash is commonly used today to promote oral health and hygiene, it has had various uses in the past.

From inventor Sir Joseph Lister, this revolutionary antiseptic has been marketed as a surgical disinfectant, a dandruff treatment, a floor cleaner, a hair conditioner, a deodorant, and even as a cure for diseases, such as diphtheria, dysentery, smallpox, and gonorrhea.

So, while it may seem like a harmless addition to your oral hygiene routine today, recent studies have raised concerns about its potential impact on your health. To understand whether mouthwash is bad for your health, it's essential to consider both the benefits and potential side effects.

Benefits Of Mouthwash

The benefits of mouthwash go beyond just a minty-fresh mouth. Regular use of mouthwash can offer multiple advantages, including:

Fresh Breath

Mouthwash is an effective way to combat bad breath, also known as halitosis. It works by killing odor-causing bacteria in the mouth, leaving you with clean and fresh breath.

In addition, some mouthwash formulas contain essential oils and ingredients like menthol, which provide a refreshing sensation and leave your mouth feeling revitalized.

Reduced Plaque Buildup

Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth and gums, which can lead to cavities, gum disease, and other oral health problems. Mouthwash can help reduce the amount of plaque buildup on teeth and gums when used in conjunction with regular brushing and flossing.

This is possible because mouthwashes contain antiseptic and disinfecting ingredients, such as cetylpyridinium chloride and chlorhexidine, that help control plaque buildup on your teeth, reducing the risk of cavities and gum disease.

Prevention Of Gum Disease

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a serious oral health condition that can lead to tooth loss if left untreated. A mouthwash with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties can be a valuable tool in preventing gum disease by killing bacteria that cause inflammation and infection in the gums. By using mouthwash regularly, you can help maintain healthy gums and prevent the onset of gum disease.

Side Effects Of Alcohol-Based Mouthwash

Alcohol-based mouthwash has been a staple of oral hygiene for many years, promising to freshen your breath and eliminate harmful bacteria.

However, research might suggest that mouthwash with alcohol may have negative side effects. Here are some potential risks associated with their use:

Canker Sores

To put it simply, canker sores, also referred to as aphthous ulcers, are those painful sores that form inside your mouth. If you use an alcohol-based mouthwash, it could potentially cause these sores to develop because the alcohol can dry out the tissues and throw off the mouth's pH balance, making it more susceptible to irritation.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a condition where the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including the use of alcohol-based mouthwash.

The alcohol in the mouthwash can dry out the mouth, leading to a decrease in saliva production. Saliva plays a crucial role in breaking down food particles, neutralizing harmful acids, and maintaining a healthy balance of oral bacteria.

A dry mouth can cause a range of issues, including bad breath, difficulty swallowing, and an increased risk of dental decay.

Burning Or Pain

Mouthwashes with high concentrations of alcohol may result in mouthwash burn, a burning sensation felt in the gums, teeth, and cheeks. Consistent use of such mouthwashes can also cause irritation of the mouth tissue, leading to the development of canker sores.

This can be particularly problematic for people who have sensitive teeth or gums. In some cases, the pain may be severe enough to cause discomfort when eating or speaking.

While the burning or pain may be temporary, if it persists, discontinue use and consult your dentist.

So, is a mouthwash with alcohol bad? There is no simple answer to whether an alcohol-based mouthwash is bad for you. While alcohol-based mouthwashes do have some benefits and several potential side effects, it ultimately depends on your personal preferences and needs.

According to research, both types of mouthwashes, with or without alcohol, are equally effective in managing plaque and gingivitis. Although mouthwashes with alcohol may potentially cause more damage to cells compared to alcohol-free mouthwashes, no significant harm was observed.

That being said, if you experience any discomfort or side effects, you may want to consider switching to an alcohol-free mouthwash. For the best oral care routine, consult your dentist or healthcare provider.

Choosing A Safe And Effective Mouthwash

When choosing a mouthwash, consider these factors to minimize potential risks:

  • Opt for alcohol-free mouthwashes, as they are less likely to cause irritation, dry mouth, or canker sores.
  • Look for a mouthwash with active ingredients that specifically target plaque buildup and gum disease prevention, such as cetylpyridinium chloride or chlorhexidine.
  • If you have sensitive teeth or gums, select a mouthwash specifically formulated for sensitive mouths to minimize discomfort during use.

Mouthwash can be a valuable addition to your oral care routine, providing numerous benefits when used correctly. By being mindful of potential side effects associated with alcohol-based mouthwashes and choosing an appropriate product, you can maintain your oral health while staying healthy.

Side Effects Of Mouthwash Without Alcohol

While alcohol-free mouthwashes are often marketed as a gentler alternative for individuals with sensitive oral tissues or those prone to discomfort from alcohol-containing rinses, you should know that they don't come without some limitations.

The following are some common side effects of mouthwash without alcohol:

Teeth Staining

When using alcohol-free mouthwashes, a common issue is the risk of teeth staining. Some ingredients, like chlorhexidine, have been linked to tooth discoloration and an increase in tartar buildup. This can result in the appearance of brown or yellow spots on the teeth that may require professional attention to remove.

To prevent tartar buildup and staining, regular use of tartar-control toothpaste and daily flossing may be helpful.

Potential Cancer Risk

A potential link between the use of mouthwash, including alcohol-free options, and an increased risk of oral cancer has been explored in various scientific studies, but the results have been far from conclusive.

This may be due to the disruption of the oral microbiome, which is the collection of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that inhabit the mouth. When the balance of these microorganisms is disrupted, it can lead to inflammation and other changes that may contribute to cancer development.

As it stands, more research is needed to establish a clear understanding of any potential risks associated with mouthwash use.

Disrupts Healthy Oral Microbiome

Using mouthwash without alcohol can disrupt the balance of microorganisms in the mouth, including beneficial bacteria that help protect against cavities and gum disease. This can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, which can cause bad breath, tooth decay, and other oral health problems.

The oral microbiome plays a crucial role in preventing tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath, so maintaining its health is essential for optimal dental hygiene. It's important to use mouthwash only as directed and to talk to your dentist if you have concerns about the impact of mouthwash on your oral microbiome.

By being aware of these potential side effects, you can adopt a more balanced approach to using mouthwash in your oral care regimen.

Always follow the recommendations given by your dentist or oral care specialist, and consider combining mouthwash use with other proven dental hygiene practices, such as brushing, flossing, and regular dental check-ups, to ensure a healthier smile.

Evaluating Mouthwash Ingredients

To fully grasp the potential adverse effects of using mouthwash, it's essential to take a closer look at the ingredients commonly found in these products. This will enable you to make informed decisions about what is most beneficial for your oral health.

Common Mouthwash Ingredients

Here's a list of common ingredients found in mouthwashes and their respective functions:

  1. Ethanol (alcohol): Alcohol serves as a solvent for many other ingredients in mouthwash and works as an antiseptic, killing bacteria responsible for bad breath and gum disease. However, it can also cause mouth dryness, which may lead to an increased risk of cavities and gum irritation.
  2. Chlorhexidine: This antimicrobial agent helps fight plaque and gingivitis. It is often found in prescription mouthwashes and can cause tooth discoloration or changes in taste sensation when used for extended periods.
  3. Cetylpyridinium chloride: Another popular antimicrobial ingredient, cetylpyridinium chloride reduces bad breath by eliminating bacteria. It can, however, cause tooth staining with long-term use.
  4. Fluoride: An essential ingredient for strengthening tooth enamel, fluoride helps prevent cavities and decay. On the other hand, excessive fluoride ingestion can lead to dental fluorosis, characterized by the development of white or brown spots on the teeth.
  5. Essential oils (e.g., eucalyptol, menthol, thymol, and methyl salicylate): Derived from plants, essential oils possess antimicrobial properties and offer a refreshing taste and sensation. Some users may experience a burning or tingling sensation when using mouthwashes containing these essential oils.

As you can see, each mouthwash ingredient has different purposes and effects on your oral health. It is essential to select a mouthwash that caters to your individual dental health needs and preferences.

Signs Of Overusing Mouthwash

Determining the correct amount of mouthwash to use, along with the appropriate frequency of use, can prove quite tricky.

Fortunately, there are telltale signs and symptoms that may indicate that you're overusing mouthwash. Being aware of these signs can help prevent any long-term negative effects on your oral health.

Here's a list of common signs that you might be overusing mouthwash:

  1. Persistent dry mouth: Overusing mouthwash, particularly alcohol-based ones, can lead to a decrease in saliva production, leaving you with a constant feeling of dry mouth.
  2. Frequent canker sores: Excessive mouthwash use, especially those with a high alcohol or acid content, can lead to irritation and the development of canker sores in your mouth.
  3. Teeth staining: Some mouthwashes, especially those containing chlorhexidine, can cause staining of the teeth when used too frequently or in excessive amounts.
  4. Symptoms of an imbalanced oral microbiome (such as recurrent gum disease or tooth decay): The overuse of mouthwash can lead to the killing of both harmful and beneficial bacteria in your mouth, throwing off the balance of your oral microbiome, which can result in gum disease or tooth decay.

If you feel that you are using mouthwash excessively or too frequently, it is recommended to seek advice from your dentist. They can assist you in understanding the appropriate usage of mouthwash based on your oral health needs and conditions.

Who Shouldn't Use Mouthwash?

Not everyone is an ideal candidate for using mouthwash. There are certain groups of people who may need to avoid it or be cautious when choosing the right type of mouthwash to use.

Here are some categories of individuals who fall under this category.

  • Children under the age of six: Young children should generally avoid using mouthwash, as they may be more likely to accidentally swallow it, which can cause potential harm when ingested.
  • Individuals with a history of alcohol abuse or struggling with addiction: Those who have a history of alcohol abuse or are in recovery from addiction should avoid using alcohol-based mouthwashes. These products often contain a significant amount of alcohol, which can be triggering and potentially harmful.
  • People with sensitive oral tissues or a history of canker sores: Individuals with susceptibility to irritation or canker sores in their mouth may want to steer clear of harsh mouthwashes. Instead, they should opt for gentler, alcohol-free alternatives specifically formulated for sensitive mouths.

Being mindful of these considerations will go a long way in ensuring that you select and use the most suitable mouthwash for your personal needs and circumstances.

In Conclusion

The use of mouthwash can be beneficial for maintaining good oral hygiene, but it's important to be aware of the potential side effects and risks. It's crucial to choose a mouthwash that is tailored to your specific dental needs, and to use it in moderation according to the instructions.

By understanding the potential benefits and risks and consulting with a dentist if needed, you can make informed choices about incorporating mouthwash into your oral care routine.

Are you rinsing with danger? In this comprehensive FAQ, we cover how to use mouthwash correctly.

Is Mouthwash Necessary?

While mouthwash is not absolutely essential for maintaining oral health, it can certainly be a beneficial addition to your dental care routine.

Mouthwash should not replace regular brushing and flossing, as it is intended to supplement those practices rather than act as a standalone solution. Incorporating mouthwash can provide a range of additional benefits, including freshening breath, reducing plaque buildup, and helping to prevent gum disease.

How Often Should You Use Mouthwash?

The frequency of mouthwash usage depends on the individual's dental health needs and preferences. However, as a general guideline, using mouthwash once or twice a day after brushing and flossing is recommended.

It is always best to follow the specific instructions found on the product label. Overusing mouthwash can lead to potential side effects, so consult with your dentist to determine the best usage for your oral care routine.

Are You Supposed To Rinse After Mouthwash?

To ensure you gain the maximum benefits from using mouthwash, it is recommended that you avoid rinsing, eating, or drinking for approximately 30 minutes after use. Rinsing your mouth immediately after using mouthwash can dilute the active ingredients, subsequently decreasing the overall effectiveness of the product.

Is Mouthwash Safe To Drink?

Drinking mouthwash is not safe and should be strictly avoided. If consumed in large quantities, mouthwash containing methyl salicylate and hydrogen peroxide may result in symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication. Additionally, it can cause significant gastrointestinal distress and alter the body's acid-base balance.

When using mouthwash, always remember to spit it out after swishing and never swallow.