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What is mouth rinse?

Mouth rinses (or mouth wash) may be used to provide a fresh, crisp feeling in your mouth after use, and many help to prevent cavities and plaque buildup. However, for some people, mouth rinses can be harmful. They may actually be masking the symptoms of an oral health disease or condition. With some conditions such as periodontal disease, bad breath and a unpleasant taste in your mouth are the first (and sometimes only) indicators that something is wrong.

Types of mouth rinse

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies mouth rinses as either cosmetic or therapeutic, or a combination of the two.

Cosmetic rinses

  • Sold as over-the-counter products
  • Help remove oral debris before or after brushing
  • Temporarily suppress bad breath
  • Diminish bacteria in the mouth
  • Refresh the mouth with a pleasant taste

It is important to note that most dentists are skeptical about the value of these antiplaque, mouth-rinsing products. Several studies have been conducted, demonstrating the products' minimal effectiveness in reducing plaque. These products should be used with caution, under the direction of an oral health care specialist.

Therapeutic rinses

  • May be sold as prescription or over-the-counter
  • Help remove oral debris before or after brushing
  • Temporarily suppress bad breath
  • Diminish bacteria in the mouth
  • Refresh the mouth with a pleasant taste
  • Contain an added active ingredient that helps protect against some oral diseases
  • Regulated by the FDA and are voluntarily approved by the American Dental Association (ADA)

Rinses of any kind should not be considered as substitutes for regular dental examinations and proper home care.

Mouth rinses with alcohol

The ingredients of mouth washes vary, but some contain high levels of alcohol—ranging from 18 to 26 percent. This may produce a burning sensation in the cheeks, tongue, and gums, or may cause intoxication if swallowed or used excessively.

For children, even small doses of these over-the-counter rinses can potentially be lethal. While mouthwash with alcohol has not been directly linked to oral cancer, alcohol is the most important risk factor for oral cancer in nonsmokers.