Mouthwash Can Actually Harm Your Oral Health: Here’s How

Commercial mouthwash isn’t all that it claims to be. In fact, it can actually do more harm than good. For instance, your mouth is teeming with beneficial bacteria that commercial mouthwashes wipe out, along with bad breath. This beneficial bacteria helps keep bad bacteria out and you and your mouth healthy. But this isn’t the only danger posed by commercially branded mouthwash. There are many downsides to swishing around modern, alcohol-based mouthwashes. 

Mouthwash’s Historical Roots

Mouthwash isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been part of oral health routines dating back to 2700 BC. Back then, people in China would use a saltwater rinse to treat gum disease. 

The Greeks and Romans also used mouthwash as part of their oral hygiene. Patrician Romans and upper-class Greeks would clean their teeth with a salt, vinegar, and alum mixture. Halfway around the world, Native Americans used plant-based mouthwashes as part of a sore throat and/or teething treatment. 

First marketed in the 1870s, Listerine’s original use was to aid in after-surgery infections and clean floors. Yes, really! In the 1920s, Listerine was repurposed and rebranded into a bad breath cure. A savvy ad campaign coaxed people into worrying about their breath, with sales jumping exponentially in less than a decade. 

Even back in the 1600s, the drawbacks of alcohol-based mouthwashes were being tried, tested, and proven. While alcoholic solutions killed off organisms like those associated with dental plaque, the lasting results for alcohol-to-mouth contact were not favorable. 

How Commercial Mouthwash Can Harm Us

As mentioned, mouthwash doesn’t distinguish between good and bad bacteria—it just wipes out everything. Alcohol-based and antibacterial mouthwash can produce what’s called a rebound effect.  This essentially means there’s a switch from good bacteria to bad bacteria because all of the good bacteria is suddenly gone. You can easily see a harmful cycle start to develop. 

Widespread bacteria loss has other consequences as well. It can restrict nitrite production. Nitrites help blood vessels effectively and efficiently expand and contract. Some studies have correlated nitrite decreases with a heightened risk of cardiovascular complications. 

In addition, mouthwash can worsen dry mouth or ulcers. Commercial mouthwash dries out mouth tissue as it evaporates, which can lead to exacerbated mouth conditions. Alcoholic mouthwash also damages your teeth and gums’ protective coating, causing increased staining from things like soda, tea, and coffee. With the breakdown of beneficial saliva and mucus, your teeth are prone to more means and symptoms of decay: plaque buildup, bad breath, and more. 

Commercial mouthwashes use terribly acidic ingredients that chew away enamel, open teeth up to further decay, and undermine teeth overall. Some research also suggests cancer-correlated complications arise from the harsh dyes and other agents present in commercial mouthwashes. 

What We Recommend

Mouthwash of any kind is no substitute for a good brushing and flossing routine. But there are some good mouthwashes out there to supplement your current oral hygiene routine. Opt for fluoride-infused mouthwashes or those labeled “cavity protection” that aren’t alcohol-based. These are much less abrasive and actually help, rather than hurt, your oral health. 
For complete oral hygiene during check-ups and every day in between, turn to the dental health professionals at LeCroy Dental. You can schedule an appointment with us, talk through your oral health options, and more. Return to our blog for more mouth-related topics, tips, and trends!