Can antiseptic mouthwash replace flossing?

I have said it before and I will say it again, we know that flossing daily, in addition to brushing twice per day, is really the best addition to your dental hygiene routine, but it does not always work for everyone. Some people find flossing to be cumbersome and time-consuming, some have trouble getting the floss in between tight spaces and others have dexterity issues that prevent them from easily manipulating the string floss around their teeth and gums. So, what do you do if you want to add some extra cleaning power to your oral hygiene routine? Incorporating antiseptic mouthwash is an easy addition – pour some liquid from the bottle, take a sip and swish around in your mouth for 30 seconds! But does it really provide the same benefits as flossing or is it just a way to freshen breath? Let’s examine just how beneficial mouthwash is when added to your daily routine.

According to the ADA, mouthwashes are used for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Freshening bad breath (halitosis)
  • Helping to prevent tooth decay
  • Reducing plaque
  • Preventing or reducing gingivitis
  • Reducing the speed that tarter forms on teeth

With the multiple benefits listed above, it seems like a no brainer to start using mouthwash right away. But before you begin, be aware that there are two categories of mouthwash, therapeutic and cosmetic. One has more health benefits than the other, so be sure that you know the difference.

  • Therapeutic mouthwashes can help reduce signs of plaque, gingivitis, cavities, and bad breath. Additionally, mouthwash that contains fluoride can help prevent or reduce tooth decay.
  • Cosmetic mouthwashes can help to temporarily solve bad breath issues and do leave the mouth with a fresh taste; however, they do not get to the root of the issue, killing the bacteria that causes bad breath. Therefore, they do not prevent against or reduce plaque, gingivitis or cavities.

So, which choice is right for you? It really depends on which oral maladies you might already have, or which ones you are trying to prevent to determine the right mouthwash for your needs. If you are going to incorporate mouthwash into your routine, consider choosing the therapeutic kind and swishing daily with an antiseptic mouthwash to help kill germs and bacteria in your mouth. With antiseptic mouthwash, in particular, it helps to remove debris, freshen breath, protect against oral disease including gingivitis, reduce plaque and eliminate bad breath. The benefits of this type of mouthwash are more apparent than cosmetic fixes. And why is it so important to fight some of these oral maladies? Let’s look at plaque and gingivitis specifically, and the havoc they can wreak on your mouth if left untreated.

  • Plaque is a sticky substance that deposits on teeth and is a breeding ground for bacteria, which in turn causes gum disease. Plaque can build up when you eat sugar or carbohydrates, so it is important to remove as much of this sticky culprit as possible, each day, from your teeth and gum line, and therapeutic mouthwash can help with plaque removal.
  • Gingivitis, a slight irritation of the gums, may seem harmless but can lead to much more serious oral health issues. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease and if left untreated, it can lead to more serious periodontitis and tooth loss. Gingivitis is caused by a bacterial infection, which in turn can exacerbate inflammation of the gums and can also force them to begin to separate from teeth. This is when the trouble begins as bacteria can creep in, but the good news is that the signs of gingivitis can be reversed. Using a therapeutic mouthwash helps to reduce bacteria and in turn, signs of gingivitis.

Using an antiseptic mouthwash can help to kill bacteria that causes plaque, gingivitis plus bad breath (an added bonus)! Also, if your mouthwash has anti-cavity ingredients with fluoride, it can help to prevent tooth decay. Additionally, using anti-cavity mouthwash with fluoride has been clinically proven to kill 50 percent more bacteria that causes cavities. As you can see, therapeutic mouthwash helps to reduce or eliminate the bacteria in your mouth that causes gum disease and bad breath, so incorporating mouthwash into your oral hygiene routine is worth the extra 30 seconds per day.

To properly use mouthwash and reap all the benefits, it is recommended that you brush and floss prior to use; brushing and flossing are still important components to good oral hygiene. So really, mouthwash is not a substitute to flossing, but using it is certainly a great addition to your daily routine. To use, you can simply measure the correct amount of liquid as prescribed on the label, swish around in your mouth and between teeth, for 30 seconds. If you are using an anti-cavity mouthwash that contains fluoride, abstain from rinsing your mouth or eating for 30 minutes; you do not want to dilute the positive effects of the fluoride on your teeth. Pretty simple, right?

Additionally, there is alcohol-free mouthwash available for people with xerostomia (dry mouth), burning mouth syndrome or those with a history of alcohol abuse. Many types of mouthwash, which contain alcohol, cause a burning sensation or dry out the mouth; for those with these issues, it is tough to really obtain the benefits if using the mouthwash product makes you feel uncomfortable. Many natural or organic, alcohol-free mouthwashes include anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties to help those with oral maladies benefit from the use of mouthwash while still preventing plaque, gingivitis, tooth decay and bad breath.

If you are just looking to improve your oral health routine, consider picking up some mouthwash from your local pharmacy; it will be easy to find one that’s right for you. If you have some severe oral problems that are causing cavities, gingivitis or periodontal disease, obtain a prescription mouthwash from your dentist. Getting back to our original question, “Can antiseptic mouthwash replace flossing?” the answer is no. However, adding mouthwash to your daily routine only takes an additional 30 seconds and can be a nice compliment to flossing, especially if you tend not to floss every single day. Let’s put it this way, mouthwash is not going to hurt your daily, oral hygiene routine, it can only help prevent gum disease and freshen breath!

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