Do You Need Mouthwash?

Were a nation obsessed with dental hygiene. We spend over two billion dollars a year trying to keep our teeth cavity-free and pearly white, our gums healthy, and our breath minty fresh. Although theres no doubt toothpaste and dental floss do the trick what about mouthwash?

Well, that depends.

First, a little background: The ingredients in various mouthwashes vary, but most popular commercial brands contain alcohol, detergent, flavoring agents, coloring agents, fluoride, preservatives and water. There are also three types of mouthwashes: Fluoride -- which strengthens your teeth and prevents cavities; Antiseptic which zaps bacteria (the cause of bad breath and most gum disease) and Total Care, which promises to solve all issues.

THE GOOD Theres evidence that mouthwashes formulated primarily to reduce plaque-producing germs and subsequent gingivitis (inflammation of gum tissue leading to periodontal disease), are at least 25% effective in doing so. Even better, those categorized as anti-cavity rinses with fluoride have been shown in clinical studies to fight up to 50% more cavity producing bacteria than those without fluoride.Over-the-counter mouthwashes formulated to help remove debris before or after brushing and suppress mouth odor or bad breath, have been shown to be effective for at least ten minutes following use (thats probably a shorter time than you thought.) They generally lose effectiveness after two hours. Nonetheless, its good to have a pleasant taste and fresher breaths.

THE BAD For some, the net effect of an alcohol-based mouthwash on breath is negative, especially for those who suffer with dry mouth syndrome -- a common condition in seniors. The alcohol can dry out the mouth further and create a breeding ground for the kind of bacteria that contributes to bad breath. A relatively new ingredient in some mouthwashes is chlorine dioxide or stabilized chlorine dioxide. Reportedly, mouthwashes with chlorine dioxide or stabilized chlorine dioxide that wont dry out your mouth but will attack the smell that oral bacteria leaves behind and won't dry out your mouth. There are also alcohol-free mouthwashes available.THE UGLY A study of 3,200 people by a team of Melbourne University researchers found that mouthwashes increase the risk of oral cancer by 9 times in smokers. This increase takes place in products that use ethanol, which helps substances such as nicotine to permeate the mouth lining.THE ANSWER If youre not a smoker or habitual drinker, using mouthwash along with twice-a-day brushing and flossing is one of the cheapest forms of insurance available for preventive health. It will almost always keep breath fresh for a while, and some benefit may be gained in fighting tooth decay, gingivitis, and full blown periodontal disease.Robin Westen is ThirdAges Medical Reporter. Check for her daily updates. She is the author of Ten Days to Detox: How to Look and Feel. See what others have to say about this story or leave a comment of your own.
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