Choosing the Right Mouth Rinse

A short detour down the dental care aisle at your local store could take awhile if you’re looking for mouth rinses. You may find dozens of products to choose from, all promising to protect your teeth and gums and freshen your breath, and even more. But how do you know what to believe, and which one is right for you?

First, understand that there are three major types of mouth rinses: cosmetic (breath-freshening), flouride-containing, and anti-gingivitis and anti-plaque. Some of these mouth rinses are available over-the-counter, others will require a prescription. Let’s break down the differences:


Many mouth rinses are available to make your breath smell good, but they really don’t work to provide any long-term dental benefits. Cosmetic mouth rinses may temporarily control or reduce bad breath, and leave the mouth with a pleasant taste. But they don’t kill the bacteria that cause bad breath or chemically inactivate odor causing compounds. Also, none of the cosmetic mouth rinses helps reduce plaque, gingivitis or cavities. If you find yourself needing to use a mouthwash frequently, you should talk with your dentist to see if there are any underlying causes that can be corrected.


We all know that flouride strengthens the enamel on the teeth, and that’s a good thing. But if you’re using a flouride toothpaste, you really don’t need a flouride mouth rinse as well. However, if you have a health condition that causes abnormal dryness in the mouth, that can change the bacterial balance in the mouth, leading to tooth decay. In those cases, a flouride rinse might be helpful. And of course, if you don’t use a flouride toothpaste, using a flouride rinse will help to strengthen the enamel and protect your teeth from decay.


Anti-plaque, anti-gingivitis, antibacterial, antimicrobial mouth rinses reduce bacterial count and inhibit bacterial activity that can cause gingivitis, a form of periodontal (gum) disease. These are the gold standards of mouth rinses. By killing potentially damaging bacteria, adding a mouth rinse to your daily routine can give a serious boost to your dental care habits. Although brushing and flossing are the key components of good oral health, we don’t always do as good a job with these tasks as we should, so adding a rinse is a no-brainer: you miss a few spots, your rinse helps to protect your teeth and gums.

These rinses kill a different spectrum of bacteria than breath freshening rinses do. And if you’re not sure which brand to trust, be sure to look for the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval. The Seal is your assurance that the product has been evaluated by an independent body of scientific experts, the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, for safety and efficacy.