While not a replacement for daily brushing and flossing, use of mouthwash (also called mouthrinse) may be a helpful addition to the daily oral hygiene routine for some people. Like interdental cleaners, mouthwash offers the benefit of reaching areas not easily accessed by a toothbrush. The question of whether to rinse before or after brushing may depend on personal preference; however, to maximize benefit from the oral care products used, manufacturers may recommend a specific order for their use, depending on ingredients. For example, some dentifrice ingredients (like calcium hydroxide or aluminum hydroxide) can form a complex with fluoride ions and reduce a mouthwash’s effectiveness. Therefore, vigorous rinsing with water may be recommended after brushing and before rinsing if these ingredients are present.
There are two main types of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic.
- Cosmetic mouthwash may temporarily control bad breath and leave behind a pleasant taste, but have no chemical or biological application beyond their temporary benefit. For example, if a product doesn’t kill bacteria associated with bad breath, then its benefit is considered to be solely cosmetic.
- Therapeutic mouthwash, by contrast, has active ingredients intended to help control or reduce conditions like bad breath, gingivitis, plaque, and tooth decay. Therapeutic mouthwashes are available both over-the-counter and by prescription, depending on the formulation.
Children younger than the age of 6 should not use mouthwash, unless directed by a dentist, because they may swallow large amounts of the liquid inadvertently. Swallowing reflexes may not be well developed in children this young, and they may swallow large amounts of the mouthwash, which can trigger adverse events—like nausea, vomiting, and intoxication (due to the alcohol content in some rinses). Check the product label for specific precautions and age recommendations.