Picture this: you’re running late for work and only have a few minutes to freshen up before you need to leave. Brushing your teeth usually takes two minutes—time that you don’t have today—so you quickly rinse your mouth with a good amount of mouthwash. You look in the mirror one last time to check your teeth, then you are ready to go.
Choosing mouthwash instead of brushing teeth happens way more often than you’d think, especially on busy mornings. After all, they work the same way, right?
Right, but that’s only partially true.
Mouthwash has many benefits, but is it a good idea to treat it as a complete replacement for toothpaste? This article discusses when and how you should use mouthwash for maximum effectiveness. In this article, you'll better understand why using mouthwash in combination with toothpaste is an excellent choice for maintaining a healthy smile.
Mouthwash has become a popular addition to many people's daily oral health routines, partly thanks to its ability to kill germs in the mouth. Unlike toothpaste, which is designed primarily to remove food particles and surface stains from the teeth, mouthwash is formulated to kill germs in your mouth and freshen your breath. Mouthwash contains active ingredients, such as alcohol, chlorhexidine, or hydrogen peroxide, which reach areas of the mouth that are difficult to clean with a toothbrush.
The most noticeable difference between toothpaste and mouthwash is their physical appearance. Toothpaste is in a gel form, whereas mouthwash is a liquid product. Convenience may drive people to prefer mouthwash over toothpaste for oral health.
But it's important to note that not all mouthwashes are created equal. Some are formulated specifically for freshening breath, while others are designed to target specific oral health concerns such as gum disease or sensitive teeth. By choosing a mouthwash tailored to your needs, you can maximize its benefits and help maintain optimal oral health.
When to Use Mouthwash
Now that we have explained the function of mouthwash, your next question may be: when should I use it?
The scientific literature on this subject is limited, and yet it contains varying opinions. Most dentists recommend using mouthwash after brushing and flossing your teeth to help kill any remaining bacteria. But some organizations suggest that this may remove the fluoride in your teeth from toothpaste and recommend using mouthwash at another time during the day.
Many mouthwashes contain ingredients such as alcohol, which can be harsh on tooth enamel if used too frequently. The alcohol can also reduce your saliva production, which allows more bacteria in your mouth and results in bad breath. As such, it's generally recommended to use mouthwash twice a day.
There are occasions when using mouthwash can be beneficial whatever the time of day. For example, if you've eaten a meal that's high in sugar or acid, mouthwash can help neutralize harmful acids and freshen your breath. Similarly, if you're on the go and don't have access to a toothbrush, using mouthwash can help to remove food particles and debris from your teeth and gums.
Brushing Your Teeth With Mouthwash
While skipping brushing your teeth with toothpaste altogether isn’t recommended by dentists, there are situations where brushing with mouthwash could be the best option. For example, if you're traveling and don't have access to toothpaste, or you're on the go and don't have time to brush your teeth thoroughly, using mouthwash can help to remove bacteria and give a quick fix for bad breath.
To use mouthwash as a toothpaste alternative:
- Start by adding a small amount of mouthwash to a cup.
- Use a mouthwash-specific or a regular toothbrush to apply the mouthwash to your teeth and gums.
- Brush all the surfaces of your teeth—the front, back, and chewing surfaces—paying special attention to your gumline where bacteria can accumulate.
Mouthwash vs. Toothpaste
Here comes the big question. Mouthwash vs. toothpaste: which one is better?
As we have discussed, using mouthwash instead of brushing your teeth can work in certain situations, and, sometimes, it may be your only option. But traditional brushing with toothpaste still takes the top spot in any oral health routine.
Why? Let’s look at the unique benefits of toothpaste:
- One of the main benefits of toothpaste is that it contains fluoride, which helps to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities. Fluoride works by promoting remineralization, which is the process by which minerals such as calcium and phosphate are absorbed back into tooth enamel. This can help to reverse early-stage tooth decay and prevent further damage to your teeth.
- Toothpaste contains abrasives, which help to remove plaque and surface stains from your teeth. These abrasives are usually made from calcium carbonate or silica, which gently scrub surface buildup and leave your teeth looking and feeling cleaner.
Mouthwash as a Supplement to Your Oral Health Routine
And now, let’s talk about the reasons why mouthwash is just considered a supplement to your oral health routine:
- Mouthwash washes away bacteria, including the good bacteria in your mouth that help your body function better.
- Plaque on your teeth is already hard enough to get rid of, but using mouthwash instead of brushing your teeth will contribute to more plaque building up. The best oral health routine involves brushing, flossing, and swishing mouthwash.
- Finally, have you noticed how we emphasized in this article that mouthwash can give you fresh breath? Occasional bad breath in the morning is expected, but having bad breath can be a symptom of more serious oral concern. Bad breath can have many causes and may indicate that you already have gum disease and other diseases. If you continue to turn to mouthwash instead of brushing your teeth, you’ll fail to address the underlying issue.
Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between toothpaste and mouthwash as using them together is your best option. You can think of them as a powerful one-two punch against oral bacteria and to promote optimal oral health.
Mouthwash and Toothpaste Are Better Used Together
Although using mouthwash instead of brushing your teeth, or using it as a toothpaste alternative, may work in certain situations, it should be considered as a supplement to traditional brushing. Mouthwash helps remove plaque buildup, eliminates germs in your mouth, reduces your risk of developing cavities and gum disease, and makes your breath smell better. Combining using mouthwash with brushing your teeth with toothpaste is the optimal way to improve your oral health.