Is mouthwash necessary in an oral care routine? - truthpaste
March 27, 2023

Is mouthwash necessary in an oral care routine?

By Marisa Battrick
  • 26 studies show strong evidence that essential oils in mouthwash can improve oral health
  • Brushing and flossing alone may not be enough
  • The development of active ingredients in mouthwash means that it is more effective than ever in contributing to great oral health

It’s time to forget everything you think you know about mouthwash. Whilst it has become a staple in many bathrooms across the globe, there still appears to be some misinformation about how and when to use it. Luckily, ongoing research into oral care means that we can continually improve our oral care rituals

Variations of mouthwash are first documented in Indian Ayurveda. Formulas vary but most seem to reference salt, celery and vinegar - It’s safe to assume that this wasn’t meant for fresh breath. Commercial mouthwash that we would recognise today came about in the late 19th Century

Is mouthwash necessary?

Dr Carter, OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation suggests; “While mechanical cleaning dislodges plaque bacteria, data suggests that this is not enough in a majority of people to maintain good levels of oral health.  Therefore, as an addition to brushing and interdental cleaning, we would recommend the use of an effective antimicrobial mouthwash.”

So, in short, yes. It should be noted that all research indicates that mouthwash is not a substitute for cleaning and flossing. Rather it compliments good oral care practice. 

How does mouthwash work?

Depending on the ingredients, mouthwash can serve a few different functions. 

Flush away food and bacteria:The action of swishing with a mouthwash helps to flush away tiny particles of food and bacteria, helping to reduce the risk of plaque and gum disease and keeping the mouth fresh.

Antibacterial and antiseptic properties: Traditional mouthwash began as an antiseptic that was used both orally and to treat wounds. Common active ingredients in commercial ingredients include alcohol and chlorhexidine. Both act to kill germs and bacteria in our mouths.

Breath Freshener: It seems obvious, swishing with a mint flavoured mouthwash will leave your breath feeling minty fresh. But it can also help eliminate food and bacteria that causes bad breath.

The problem with commercial mouthwash

Mouthwash is getting a bit of a bad rep at the moment. The problem with mouthwash is two fold:

Many people aren't using it right: Most people grab the mouthwash straight after brushing. Swishing straight after brushing can prevent the toothpaste ingredient from working, especially if you are using a fluoride toothpaste

Mouthwashes can contain alcohol and chlorhexidine. Alcohol is used in mouthwashes as a solvent to help dissolve active ingredients, as well as being an antiseptic. Chlorhexidine is an active ingredient found in many medicated mouthwashes. As a disinfectant, and antiseptic it is effective at preventing gum disease and plaque bacteria. However both alcohol and chlorhexidine can be having a negative effect on our oral health. Studies show that alcohol is linked to mouth cancer, and both alcohol and chlorhexidine can strip away the good bacteria in our mouths that promote oral health.

When choosing a mouthwash, we think it's best to avoid these ingredients. We've created a natural mouthwash that promotes oral health through the use of prebiotic aloe vera, and added probiotics. This way it can help flush away food and bacteria, freshen breath, and help prevent plaque whilst supporting the oral microbiome. 

When should you use mouthwash?

Mouthwash will be more effective after a meal like lunch or dinner. It is best to floss before using mouthwash to help the mouthwash reach in between your teeth. If you brush your teeth first thing in the morning, and then have breakfast, use mouthwash after eating to leave the house feeling fresh.

Does Mouthwash Remove Plaque?

Used alone, mouthwash can help to fight the bacteria that cause plaque.  To be really effective at actually removing plaque, mouthwash needs to be used as well as brushing and flossing. 

Studies show overwhelming evidence that regularly using mouthwash can help in both the short and long term when it comes to reducing plaque. 

More recent research is highlighting the benefits of ingredients that can vastly improve mouthwashes for even better results. Research in 2017 that looked at 26 different studies concluded that mouthwashes containing essential oils significantly help to reduce the bacteria that cause plaque. 

Mouthwash and gum disease

Whilst this may not always have been the case, the development of active ingredients over the last decade has meant that there are mouthwashes that can actively help to stop the development of gum disease. 

In particular, Chlorhexidine has consistently proven to be effective in fighting plaque and bacteria. 

Even better news is that Aloe Vera has been proven to be just as successful as a natural substitute for chlorhexidine, bringing all of the benefits and working well with probiotics to tackle gum disease.


Getting the most from your oral care ritual

You are now armed with all the most up-to-date information to know when and why to add  mouthwash to your oral care ritual. 

Remember to use mouthwash after meals, not after brushing.

Avoid harsh chemicals that can damage the good bacteria.

Use mouthwash alongside your regular oral care routine to keep you feeling fresh throughout the day.

Happy swishing!



Tatiana V. Macfarlane et al, Mouthwash Use in General Population: Results from Adult Dental Health Survey in Grampian, Scotland, (2010), Journal of Oral and Maxillofac Research

Oral Health Foundation (2020) ‘National Smile Month 2020 Survey’, UK, April 2020.

NHS, ”How To Keep Your Teeth Clean” (reviewed Feb 2022)

Fahad Ali Alshehri, The use of mouthwash containing essential oils (LISTERINE®) to improve oral health: A systematic review, (2017) Saudi Dental Journal

Meenakshi Rajendiran, Recent Development of Active Ingredients in Mouthwashes and Toothpastes for Periodontal Diseases, (2021), Molecules

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