Dr. Ray Alavanja
Dr. Robert Pieters

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Is Mouthwash Bad For You?

Brushing and flossing are probably part of your regular dental routine. You may also take a swig of mouthwash as the final step to feeling minty fresh. What you may not know is that mouthwash can have damaging effects on your teeth, gums and overall oral health. Mouthwash side effects can range from dry mouth to an increased risk of mouth cancer depending on the active ingredients in the formula.

The Difference Between Cosmetic and Therapeutic Mouthwash

The effects of mouthwash differ depending on which type of mouthwash you use. Cosmetic mouthwash serves as a temporary fix to bad breath. This type of mouthwash acts the same way as popping a breath mint or piece of chewing gum, because it doesn’t have the same active ingredients as therapeutic mouthwash. Therapeutic mouthwash, in contrast, contains ingredients such as chloride, fluoride and peroxide that actively fight plaque, tooth decay, gingivitis and bad breath. While cosmetic mouthwashes are obtained over the counter, some therapeutic mouthwashes must be prescribed by your doctor. These include formulations containing chlorhexidine, a compound used to treat gingivitis.

The Problems With Mouthwash

As a conventional product you may use every day, you’re probably wondering “why is mouthwash bad for you?” In fact, there are numerous ways mouthwash can be harmful to your oral health: 

  • It can cause more cavities by killing good bacteria that support the natural remineralization of your teeth, which is critical to the process of reversing tooth decay.
  • It can dry out your mouth because its high alcohol content disrupts the natural production of saliva.
  • It can irritate canker sores with its high alcohol content and create mouth ulcers by burning a hole in the tissue of your cheek’s protective layer.
  • It can mask deeper oral hygiene issues by temporarily treating bad breath.

While the alcohol in mouthwash causes a burning sensation that convinces you it’s working its magic, it doesn’t reach harmful bacteria residing beneath the gum line. Other harmful ingredients can be found in mouthwash, including:

  • Chlorine dioxide, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a “hazardous gas”
  • Chlorhexidine, a major allergen
  • Parabens, which disrupt hormone function
  • Formaldehyde, a harmful preservative that can cause respiratory irritation

These ingredients, which are associated with allergic reactions and elevated cancer risk, are most harmful when mouthwash is consumed in larger quantities.

What Can I Use as an Alternative to Mouthwash?

Ditching mouthwash altogether is the best way to avoid its oral health risks. But if you still want to use it, choosing formulations that don’t include harmful ingredients is a good place to start. Try organic or alcohol-free mouthwash as a milder alternative to traditional mouthwash. They may not seem as effective since they aren’t as intense, but these mouthwashes will eliminate more bad bacteria than good bacteria. You also can concoct a DIY mouthwash using aloe vera juice, water, baking soda and peppermint essential oil.

Using mouthwash can make you feel fresh and clean for the moment, but it should never take the place of brushing or other routine oral care. If you are wondering whether you practice correct dental hygiene, contact our office for more information or to schedule a dental cleaning.

Schererville Family Dentistry

1050 Caroline Ave
Schererville, IN 46375
Call or text us: 219.322.3232