Mouthwash: What Does It Do, and Do You Need It?

Brushing and flossing are the cornerstones of great dental home care. But there’s one more product many people include in their daily routine: mouthwash.

But do you need to use mouthwash? What’s the best kind of mouthwash? What are the benefits, uses, and types of mouthwash?

We’ll help you break down your mouth rinse options and determine if it can help keep your teeth and gums healthy!

Types of Mouthwash

There are several types of mouthwash, each of which does something a little different.

  • Anti-microbial rinses kill germs, which may help keep your gums healthy and your oral bacteria levels under control.
  • Anti-cavity mouthwash usually contains fluoride to strengthen your enamel. Some also help maintain a neutral pH with ingredients like xylitol, which can further fight acid damage.
  • Cosmetic mouthwash is basically a liquid breath mint. These rinses don’t provide any therapeutic benefits.
  • Rinses to soothe the soft tissue can enhance wound healing and minimize discomfort from conditions like ulcers and burning mouth syndrome.
  • Tooth whitening rinses can help you maintain results from professional tooth whitening by controlling stain, but probably won’t significantly change the shade of your teeth.
  • Natural rinses don’t include alcohol in their formula. Warm salt water is a great natural mouthwash that can help soothe sores and gently speed healing. It may surprise you, but the active ingredients in Listerine are a proprietary blend of natural essential oils!
  • Prescription mouthwash includes a number of anti-cavity and anti-microbial options. Chlorhexidine mouthwash is a commonly prescribed rinse following many types of oral surgery. We frequently recommend prescription-strength fluoride mouthwash, too!

Remember that many rinses on the market do double- or triple-duty! For example, there are some great alcohol-free natural options that freshen your breath, kill germs, and strengthen enamel simultaneously.

How to Use Mouthwash

Just rinse and spit, right? Kind of.

To get the most out of your mouthwash, it’s best to start with squeaky-clean teeth. Even the strongest anti-microbial or anti-cavity mouthwash can’t penetrate through thick plaque. Removing as much plaque as possible before using your mouthwash will ensure it gets to the enamel and soft tissue where it can do its best work!

After brushing and flossing, use enough mouthwash to comfortably swish. Usually around 15-20 mL works for most people, and your mouthwash cap will probably have lines to measure out the right dose.

How long to swish depends on the type of mouthwash you’re using. For over-the-counter antiseptic rinse like traditional Listerine, get as close to 30 seconds as you can. But if you can’t take the burn, just go with what you can handle. Antimicrobial mouthwash also works best if you gargle, helping it kill bacteria on the back of your tongue and around the throat and soft palate.

Most fluoride rinses work best if you keep swishing for a full minute. Since fluoride’s main job is to strengthen the teeth, gargling really isn’t necessary with this type of rinse, but be sure you swish well around those molars all the way in the back!

Prescription mouthwash will come with detailed instructions from your dentist or hygienist, so follow those as closely as possible.

No matter what kind of mouthwash you use, spit thoroughly but try not to rinse with water afterward unless specifically instructed to do so. Try not to eat, drink, or rinse for about half an hour after rinsing with mouthwash. Leaving a little residue behind gives your mouthwash more time to work!

Do You Need Mouthwash?

Is mouthwash necessary for good oral health? Strictly speaking, no. Mouthwash is a great addition to your home care routine that can cover the bases for imperfect habits.


There are times when mouthwash is essential. Antiseptic and anti-cavity mouthwash can minimize damage from excessive plaque build-up from certain medical conditions, poor hygiene habits, and during orthodontic treatments.

Any time your dentist, periodontist, or oral surgeon prescribes mouthwash, it is vital that you use it, and follow their instructions to the letter. Chlorhexidine mouthwash following oral surgery, for example, will help prevent infections and compromised outcomes.

Equally, there are times when your dentist may tell you to stop using mouthwash!

You should never use over-the-counter mouthwash that contains alcohol after gum grafting, for example, as it can prevent tissue healing and kill your graft. On the other hand, a warm saltwater rinse can help you heal and decrease your discomfort.

Mouthwash for Kids

Is mouthwash good for kids? Again, this depends on the child and their needs! Many children benefit from anti-cavity mouthwash once a day before bed.

Children should only start to use mouthwash once they can control swallowing and understand that they need to spit out the rinse. That usually means kids as young as six can start using mouthwash under close supervision.

However, many antimicrobial rinses will be too strong for kids, and they probably won’t like the burn. Children should never use mouthwash that contains alcohol.

What Is Magic Mouthwash?

Magic mouthwash refers to a prescription mixture made from a variety of medications your dentist will choose to address your specific needs. There’s no set list of ingredients, making this a versatile solution to a variety of problems.

Dentists frequently prescribe magic mouthwash to patients undergoing cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

It usually includes numbing agents as well as ingredients to help sores heal faster. Magic mouthwash can also contain antihistamines, antacids, antifungals, steroids, and antibiotics.

Are There Mouthwashes I Shouldn’t Use?

People often use hydrogen peroxide as mouthwash. While using diluted hydrogen peroxide mouthwash can be okay, you shouldn’t rinse with hydrogen peroxide at full concentration, and should only use it occasionally.

While it can temporarily reduce gum inflammation and soothe a sore throat, frequent hydrogen peroxide use can upset the healthy balance of beneficial bacterial in your mouth, leading to a condition called black hairy tongue, an overgrowth of bacteria that looks exactly how the name would make you think.

However, full strength hydrogen peroxide can also burn your tissues and cause nausea and vomiting. In general, it’s best to steer clear of hydrogen peroxide mouthwash unless specifically directed by your doctor or dentist.

For certain people, some over-the-counter mouthwashes may be too harsh and irritate their tissue. Likewise, using mouthwash more than once or twice per day can cause dry, irritated, and sloughing cheeks, lips, and gums. So don’t overdo it!

What Is the Best Mouthwash?

So, what’s the best mouthwash? It depends! Your dental team at Lake Baldwin Dental can help you determine your oral health needs and which mouthwash will best address your needs.

Many patients benefit from a combination of rinses, such as using an antimicrobial in the morning to kill germs and freshen up their coffee breath as well as an anti-cavity rinse before bed to strengthen their enamel overnight.

In general, look for the ADA seal on any over-the-counter dental products, as that’s usually a good indication that the product is backed up with enough clinical research.

As always, if you’re ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask! Keep swishing, Orlando!

Your dental team can help you determine the right mouthwash for your needs!