A lot of people wonder if they can get away with just using mouthwash instead of the whole routine of brushing and flossing every night. Mouthwash is antibacterial, many have fluoride, and it sure makes your breath smell better. It sure would be a lot easier too. The short answer to this question…
No, mouthwash can’t even come close to replacing brushing and flossing.
There are a couple of reasons why it is important to only use mouthwash as an extra tool when keeping your mouth clean and healthy.
Bacteria in your mouth is really tricky. If the bacteria just washed off your teeth anytime some liquid came along then they sure wouldn’t last long. One of the functions of your saliva is to try and do exactly that… wash away any food bacteria. It does this pretty well but even it can’t do everything you need. Bacteria have developed some pretty strong mechanisms for attaching to your teeth. Even teeth that have recently been cleaned very quickly become covered in in a layer of protein molecules that create a surface for bacteria to attach to. Other bacteria attach to these, and they all grow and multiply. Given some time, they create a heavy layer of plaque on your tooth. Mouthwash can’t break this up. Only mechanical removal will work at this point (such as toothbrushing).
Now this brings us floss or other interdental cleaners. Toothbrushes can only clean off surfaces that they can get to. They can’t get to the surfaces in between your teeth. Only floss, interdental cleaners, or some type of water flosser can do this. Again, you absolutely have to have that mechanical removal of dental plaque to avoid consequences.
So what is mouthwash actually good for?
Mouthwash is good to use in addition to proper brushing and flossing. It’s antibacterial properties can help keep your teeth clean longer and your gums healthier (for some mouthwash products anyway).
Mouthwash can be an extra source of fluoride (for mouthwash that contains fluoride). If you are using it for the fluoride effect make sure you wait at least 30 minutes after brushing before using it. You’ll also want to hold it in your mouth as long as you are able. Two minutes is a good time frame to shoot for. This gives it enough time to work.
Mouthwash is also good for freshening your breath. This is a temporary effect, especially if you don’t clean your mouth well, but it is probably the most effective product for a quick breath pick me up. Products that contain zinc usually work for the longest period of time. Listerine products also tend to have very strong “flavor” profiles and work well to hide bad breath temporarily.