You Might Be Using Mouthwash Wrong — Here's How to Know

My dental-health routine includes brushing and flossing, and then rinsing with mouthwash twice a day — but I just learned that timing those tasks properly should be an important part of my regimen, too.

"If you can avoid it, do not use mouthwash right after you brush your teeth. In fact, you shouldn't rinse your mouth at all, even with water, right after you brush your teeth. Instead, you should spit out the excess toothpaste and allow the rest of the toothpaste to absorb into your teeth," Dr. Nisha Garg, DMD, an orthodontist with Perfect Smile Braces, said.

She added that rinsing with mouthwash between meals or at random times in the day (rather than right after brushing) could help to maximize the effectiveness of your rinse.

I was right about how often I use mouthwash, though. Dr. Garg suggested swishing about four teaspoons of mouthwash for 30 seconds before spitting it out one to two times a day. And for the best results, she suggested not eating, drinking, or rinsing with water within 30 minutes after.

"In reality, different mouthwashes have different active ingredients, but they all typically do play a role in eliminating plaque or bacteria, along with also masking bad breath with a minty flavor. However, using mouthwash alone is not enough! It is a great tool to help clean teeth, in conjunction with brushing and flossing!"

Mouthwash not only masks bad breath, but it can prevent it, too. According to Dr. Garg, bad breath is caused by bacteria that occupy the teeth, gums, and tongue. Since bacteria tend to stick onto rougher surfaces, rather than the smooth, slippery surfaces of clean teeth, cleaning your teeth with mouthwash can prevent bacteria buildup that could lead to increased risk of bad breath, cavities, and gum disease.

Both alcohol and alcohol-free mouthwashes can do the trick, Dr. Garg said, but if you struggle with dry mouth, you may want to ask your dentist if an alcoholic formula is right for you.

Using a fluoride mouthwash can be beneficial, too — the ingredient can help strengthen enamel to prevent it from forming cavities, she added.

The best way to know if a mouthwash is right for you, though, is to ask your dentist; they'll guide you to a brand that can support your specific needs.

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