Which Mouthwash to Choose (and How to Use it Safely)

Many of us like to finish off our dental routine with a swish of mouthwash to leave us feeling fresh. However, there has been some debate recently about just how helpful (and healthy) this actually is. So, dowe need mouthwash for good oral health?

The answer is — it depends. There are many different types on offer, ranging from your regular breath-freshening mouthwashes to specialist, prescription-only rinses. To understand the best mouthwash for your needs, let’s first take a look at the different types on offer.


Most of the mouthwashes you see in the drugstore are of the basic variety, simply designed to help rinse the mouth and freshen the breath. They work by clearing away the food particles and plaque dislodged during brushing and flossing. Some also have ingredients like alcohol, which is added to kill bacteria that might eventually lead to halitosis (bad breath) and gum disease, or peroxide, which is added for its whitening properties.

Fluoride rinse

While some basic mouthwashes contain added fluoride, a fluoride rinse is a more concentrated product specifically designed to strengthen your teeth. The fluoride integrates with the tooth enamel to reinforce the tooth, making it more resistant to the acids produced by plaque. This protects you from tooth decay, enamel loss, and cavities.

Chlorhexidine gluconate rinse

Chlorhexidine gluconate, or CHG, is a powerful germicidal agent that kills bacteria in the mouth. It’s only available on prescription in the US and is usually provided in cases of established gum disease, or after a treatment like a deep cleaning or root planing.

Is mouthwash safe to use?

A recent study attracted a lot of attention when it appeared to link mouthwash to increased cardiovascular risk. It suggested that, as well as killing ‘bad’ bacteria, mouthwash killed a form of ‘good’ bacteria that played a critical part in maintaining heart health and regulating blood pressure.

While this naturally caused some concern, the author herself went on the record to state that her findings had been misreported. Her study focused specifically on the use of CHG rinses, not the regular mouthwash you’d find at the store.

While it won’t affect your heart health, the use of basic mouthwash has not been without its own health concerns. Some studies claimed to link alcohol-based mouthwash to some forms of oral cancers, but again, these studies appear to have been misreported. While excessive use may increase your risk of oral cancer, a review by the FDA found basic mouthwashes completely safe for regular daily use.

Choosing the right mouthwash

All available evidence says that mouthwash plays an important role in your dental health routine when used as directed, and we agree. But which one should you choose?

When to use mouthwash

For those with generally good dental health, a standard mouthwash will almost always suffice when used twice daily after brushing and flossing. If you have concerns like sensitive teeth or staining, you can choose one with added ingredients that target your specific problem.

Some people find that alcohol-based mouthwashes are not the best option for them. You might find that alcohol causes or worsens problems like dry mouth, sensitivity, and irritation, or you might simply prefer that you or your family are not exposed to alcohol. If so, you can choose from a wide range of alcohol-free alternatives. These typically contain an antibacterial agent called cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC), which is proven to be just as effective at killing bacteria in the mouth.

When to use a fluoride rinse

Most people get enough fluoride from brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and drinking fluoridated water. However, if you don’t live in an area with fluoridated water, or if your or your children are particularly prone to cavities, then it’s a good idea to speak to your dentist about a fluoride rinse to strengthen and protect your teeth.

A word of caution — fluoride can be toxic if swallowed, so be careful to spit out the rinse afterwards and supervise children to ensure they spit, too. For best results, avoid drinking, eating, and smoking for 30 minutes after use so that the fluoride can integrate with your tooth enamel.

When to use a chlorhexidine gluconate rinse

Your dentist is only likely to prescribe a CHG rinse if you have gingivitis or advanced gum disease, or if you’re recovering from a treatment. While we mentioned earlier that CHG use has been linked to cardiovascular risk, if you use your rinse as prescribed by your dentist, and only for as long as you need to, then your risk of harmful effects is very minimal.

CHG can cause discoloration, so it’s a good idea to avoid food and drinks that may stain your teeth for an hour before and after use (think red wine, tea, and coffee). Crowns, caps, and veneers are especially vulnerable to the staining effect of CHG, so if you have any of those then be sure to discuss the possibility of discoloration with your dentist first.

Finally, CHG is not suitable for those under the age of 18. Keep your CHG rinse out of the reach of children, and avoid using CHG if you are pregnant or nursing.

Still not sure which mouthwash is right for you?

For most people, using a regular mouthwash twice a day is enough to keep teeth and gums healthy. However, if you’re looking for a mouthwash to treat specific concerns, it can be hard to know exactly which one is best for you. If you’re not sure, we’re here to help! Call Mountain Peak Dentistry now at

(303) 988-7800 to arrange an appointment.

About Mountain Peak Dentistry
Mountain Peak Dentistry is the dental practice of leading dentist, Dr. Brennan Bonati. We’re proud to be recognized as the most trusted, reliable and compassionate dental practice in Lakewood, CO and the surrounding areas, providing comprehensive, restorative and cosmetic dentistry .

     About Dr. Bonati

Dr. Bonati loves being able to restore patients smiles and focuses and restorative and cosmetic dentistry. What really excites Dr. Bonati about dentistry, however, is that he can develop strong relationships with his patients and help them achieve their goals, whether that means improving their smile cosmetically or by simply keeping their teeth healthy.

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