Mouthwash – the facts

Dentist and Head of Clinical Services at Bupa UK
10 May 2018

Go into any high-street chemist and you’ll see a bewildering array of mouthwashes, promising us everything from fresh breath to healthy teeth and gums, and less plaque. Using a mouthwash is now part of many people’s daily routine ... but are they all they claim to be? Here I’ll cut through the claims and give you the facts about mouthwash.

Image of a man smiling

A healthy dental routine

The foundation for healthy teeth and gums is a regular cleaning routine. This means brushing your teeth twice a day, for two to three minutes each time, using a toothpaste with fluoride in it if you can. You should brush before you go to sleep and at one other time; most people do this soon after they get up.

Brush along the line where your teeth meet your gums, as well as your teeth themselves. Don’t rinse your mouth with anything straight after you brush, as this cancels out the benefits of using a fluoride toothpaste. You should clean between your teeth once a day too, using dental floss or tape.

Many people now use mouthwash as an add-on to brushing their teeth. But the bottom line is, if you’re brushing well and your mouth is healthy, you shouldn’t need to use it.

What does mouthwash do? 

Mouthwashes fall roughly into two main groups; cosmetic and ‘therapeutic’.

Cosmetic mouthwash

Cosmetic mouthwashes temporarily freshen your breath, usually with a minty smell and taste. That’s all they can do; they can’t get rid of bad breath or treat any mouth or teeth problems. After a short time, the ‘mintyness’ goes and you need to use them again to get the fresh taste and smell back.

Therapeutic mouthwash

Unlike cosmetic mouthwashes, therapeutic mouthwashes can be used to treat specific mouth and gum problems. You can buy some types of therapeutic mouthwash from your chemist or pharmacy, but others will need to be prescribed by your GP or your dentist.

You may be given an anti-bacterial mouthwash or rinse to use as part of treatment for:

  • repeated mouth ulcers
  • inflamed gums (gingivitis)
  • bad breath (halitosis)
  • mouth infections

There are also mouthwashes that contain fluoride. These can be helpful if you’re more likely than most to develop tooth decay. This can happen if:

  • you’re not producing enough saliva (some medicines can affect this)
  • you have a dry mouth
  • you’re unable to look after your teeth and mouth well

If you’re more susceptible to tooth decay and you use a fluoride mouthwash every day, you can help to reduce your risk of developing it.

Do mouthwashes stain your teeth?

Some mouthwashes can give you an unpleasant taste in your mouth if you use them around the same time as using toothpaste. So, it’s a good idea to use them at a different time from when you brush your teeth.

One other thing to be aware of is that some mouthwashes, such as those that contain chlorhexidine, can stain your teeth and tongue brown. This can happen if you use them for a long time, but the good news is that it’s temporary. The staining will go from your tongue once you finish using the mouthwash. You can also reduce the amount of staining by brushing your teeth well. You may need to have some staining removed by your dentist.

Using a mouthwash is no substitute for brushing and flossing your teeth regularly. If you regularly have bad breath or mouth ulcers, or if you think you may have an infection, give the mouthwashes a miss, and see your dentist instead.

Caring for your teeth is an important part of looking after your overall health. Discover more about our range of dentistry services.

Dr Steve Preddy
Dentist and Head of Clinical Services at Bupa UK

What would you like us to write about?


Bupa health insurance

Heart icon

Bupa health insurance aims to provide you with the specialist care and support you need, as quickly as possible. Find out how you could benefit.