Bad breath is one of the most embarrassing—and, fortunately, treatable—personal-hygiene issues. That’s why mouthwash companies advertise aggressively, playing on our worries about offending others. But is mouthwash really necessary?

“With proper oral hygiene and visits to the dentist, over-the-counter mouthwash is not necessary and is merely an adjunct,” says Dr. John Boain of Boain Dental Care, who adds, “Prescription mouthwash is therapeutic in fighting oral diseases and will be recommended by your dentist.”

However, Dr. Humaira Rosinski, a dentist with Creve Coeur Dental, says that mouthwash “does have benefits, and it is recommended not just for fresh, minty breath, which we dentists appreciate, but it reduces bacteria in your mouth and can be used to assist in the recovery and/or treatment of other oral health concerns.”

Rosinski likens using mouthwash to rinsing out a water bottle. “You fill your mouth with a cleaning solution and swish it around to dislodge, sweep away debris and freshen your mouth,” she says. “But it’s important to note that mouthwash is not a substitute for flossing or brushing, by any means.” Boain agrees that basic dental hygiene—brushing and flossing daily—is the cornerstone of good oral care and fresh breath.

If you do want to make mouthwash part of your oral hygiene routine, look for a formula that is non-alcoholic. Although studies have not conclusively proven a link between alcoholic mouthwashes and oral cancers, Boain notes that alcohol is drying and can contribute to dry-mouth, cavities, gum disease and even fungal growth. He and Rosinski suggest asking your dentist for specific mouthwash recommendations based on your individual needs.

Mouthwash use is easy and straightforward: “It is acceptable to use mouthwash regularly through the day, but do not swallow it," Rosinski says, adding, "Keep in mind that an alcohol-based mouthwash can cause you to indicate positive on a breathalyzer up to an hour after use.” 

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