When you go to a store and look at the shelves of oral care products, you can come across an incredible variety. This is also quite true for the different types of mouthwashes. Plus, this confusing variety increases if you are searching online. So, it is quite normal to be undecided about what to choose among so many brands and products with different features. Even if you know your own needs, it can be challenging to find the best option for you.
In this article, we will try to group the types of mouthwashes and understand what they are good for or who they are suitable for. We hope we can create a mouthwash map in your head by the end of this journey.
What are the different types of mouthwash?
As mentioned above, there are many different types of mouthwash. We can group them according to their functions and contents. For example, some are suitable for general use, such as fluoride mouthwash or whitening mouthwash, while others are prescribed by dentists to treat specific diseases, such as chlorhexidine mouthwashes. At the end of the day, it is quite possible to find a mouthwash for every consumer group and every need.
So, let’s start talking about the main different types of mouthwash!
Prescription mouthwashes, also known as therapeutic or chlorhexidine mouthwashes, are the ones that you shouldn’t use daily. They are generally used for treating specific illnesses mainly for infections and wounds and contain agents like chlorhexidine, which is a common disinfectant and antiseptic agent. Chlorhexidine is especially effective against gingivitis (1). If you are experiencing gum disease or similar problems, mouthwashes that contain chlorhexidine may be suitable for your situation.
There are also some medical mouthwashes called “magic” mouthwash. They are specified on the throat and mouth sores and inflammations. They are generally used against the side effects of cancer treatment like chemotherapy or radiotherapy. These kinds of treatments can create a condition called oral mucositis, which appears with symptoms like bleeding, ulcers, and severe pain. Magic mouthwashes are one of the most common ones to fight against these symptoms.
Over-the-counter mouthwashes are mouthwashes that you can go to and buy from any market without a doctor’s prescription. As a matter of fact, except for the prescribed mouthwashes, the rest can be considered over-the-counter mouthwashes.
While the non-cosmetics of these don’t contain serious medical agents and do not have drug status, their antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties help you fight infections, plaques, and tooth decay. Most of the time, they are quite effective in this regard.
Alcohol-containing mouthwashes are quite common because alcohol is a really effective agent against bacteria that multiply on your teeth and gums. Alcohol has been used against single-celled microorganisms for centuries. It is because alcohol causes a process called denaturation on these germs.
So, you may ask how it works. Basically, alcohol breaks the outer boundary of these germs and breaks them down. It may not be effective against the germs multiplying inside your organs and tissues but it is quite effective against the germs living on the surfaces like teeth, gums, tongue, and even throat. So, naturally, a lot of mouthwashes contain alcohol as an antiseptic agent.
But of course, alcohol has some side effects, especially in regular use. First of all, it causes a dry mouth situation. Alcohol consumption reduces saliva production and creates a dry mouth. So, you may not want alcohol in your mouthwash, luckily there are many options for alcohol-free mouthwashes.
Alternatives to alcohol-containing mouthwashes can have the same antiseptic effect via other ingredients like chlorhexidine gluconate or cetylpyridinium chloride. You can even find some totally natural, plant-based ones.
Xylitol is a plant-based alcohol, found in a crystal form. It is known for its effect on saliva production, increases saliva production and saliva is the most important natural defense. It cleans the food debris, bacteria, and dead cells in your mouth. Additionally, it also stabilizes the pH level (acidity or alkalinity) of your mouth. An acidic environment is the worst environment for your teeth, it erodes teeth surfaces over time. That’s why xylitol is a very beneficial agent.
Especially if you have problems, such as a dry mouth or you consume too much acidic stuff, you may consider using a xylitol mouthwash.
Fluoride mouthwashes are solutions that contain fluoride, a natural mineral that fights against cavities and strengthens tooth enamel by helping remineralization (2). In fact, it can even heal early-stage cavities. Seems unbelievable right?
If you use fluoride, the fluorine atoms reunite with the dissolved particles of these minerals and they form stronger minerals. So if you have problems such as cavities or sensitive teeth (which signifies a weak tooth enamel), a fluoride mouthwash can be a real life-saving item for you (3).
Some people may not want to use mouthwashes with artificial chemical ingredients. Actually, there are some agents used in dental hygiene products that we do not have enough information on their long-term effects. The majority of them are relatively new mouth rinsing agents.
Fortunately, there are a lot of natural mouthwashes, totally produced from %100 natural ingredients like essential oils and other herbal extracts. They can be also as effective as chemical-based ones, against bacteria, tooth decay, and infections. Plus, they come in a variety of flavors, such as mint, cinnamon, and lavender. You can even make your own natural mouthwash at home.
Actually, most mouthwashes contain antiseptic ingredients except cosmetic mouthwashes. These ingredients may be artificial or plant-based.
One of the main purposes of these mouthwashes is to kill the bacteria that accumulate not only on the teeth but also on other surfaces in the mouth, such as the gums, tongue, and palate. You may brush your teeth to get rid of bacteria on them, but they can still accumulate on other surfaces and this situation still can put your oral health at risk. Hence, using antiseptic mouthwash for deeper cleaning can be highly effective.
Antiseptic mouthwashes can be very helpful, but also overuse of antiseptics can put you in a problematic situation. This is because these agents kill all the bacteria without any discrimination. Some of these bacteria living in your mouth prevent other harmful bacteria to settle and are actually good for you. If you destroy this bacterial balance in the mouth, the harmful bacteria can easily accumulate in your mouth and cause infections. Not only bacteria but even fungal infections can occur.So, you have to protect this balance while you’re following your hygiene routines.
Probiotic mouthwashes protect the bacterial balance in your mouth while cleaning the harmful bacteria and reducing plaque build-up (4). They are as effective as the other antiseptic mouthwashes against bacteria and plaque but they also let the friendly microbiome grow.
Like many other teeth-whitening products, whitening mouthwashes also contain hydrogen peroxide, a typical and effective bleaching agent. This is a strong agent which kills germs and penetrates the pores on the tooth surface. Consequently, it can remove the particles that cause discoloration. If you have stains on your teeth, using whitening mouthwash can help you to remove them with its ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide.
What is the best mouthwash to use? Choosing the safest one for you
If you are thinking “what kind of mouthwash should I use?”, you can choose by looking at the above classifications according to your personal preferences. If you are looking for a mouthwash that will be specifically effective for a medical condition, you need to properly analyze your situation.
Here are a few examples of different types of mouthwashes that should be used based on different situations such as infections, and plaque buildup.
- Antiseptic and anti-plaque mouthwashes will be effective for simple infections and plaque accumulation.
- Fluoride mouthwashes are a better option for cavities that have not yet progressed.
- Probiotic mouthwash may be better to use if you think that the bacterial balance in your oral mucosa is disturbed.
If you could not find what you are looking for, it is useful to consult your dentist for more special cases.
(1) Brookes ZLS, Bescos R, Belfield LA, Ali K, Roberts A. Current uses of chlorhexidine for management of oral disease: a narrative review. J Dent. 2020 Dec;103:103497. doi: 10.1016/j.jdent.2020.103497. Epub 2020 Oct 17. PMID: 33075450; PMCID: PMC7567658. Link
(2) Asl Aminabadi N, Balaei E, Pouralibaba F. The Effect of 0.2% Sodium Fluoride Mouthwash in Prevention of Dental Caries According to the DMFT Index. J Dent Res Dent Clin Dent Prospects. 2007;1(2):71-76. doi:10.5681/joddd.2007.012 Link
(3) -Medjedovic E, Medjedovic S, Deljo D, Sukalo A. IMPACT OF FLUORIDE ON DENTAL HEALTH QUALITY. Mater Sociomed. 2015 Dec;27(6):395-8. doi: 10.5455/msm.2015.27.395-398. PMID: 26889098; PMCID: PMC4733546. Link
(4) Alhallak E, Kouchaje C, Hasan A, Makieh R. Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Probiotic Mouthwashes in Reducing Dental Plaque in Primary and Permanent Teeth: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Cureus. 2022 Aug 18;14(8):e28125. doi: 10.7759/cureus.28125. PMID: 35990566; PMCID: PMC9389001. Link