Does Mouthwash Deserve a Spot in Your Medicine Cabinet? A Dentist Weighs In

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Minette Hand)

You’re just getting home after a long night, or you’re rushing to work in the morning, and you think: A quick rinse with mouthwash will be the same as brushing my teeth. Sound familiar? Unfortunately for you, that logic isn’t quite right.

While mouthwash can be a helpful addition to your oral hygiene routine, it should never be a replacement for proper dental care, says Dr. Lance Vernon, formerly a Senior Instructor with Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine for 15 years and now a VA Quality Scholars Fellow.

However, is it totally useless? Vernon says it’s not black and white.

(Image credit: Hajakely)

“The biggest bang for your buck is brushing your teeth and seeing your dentist regularly,” Vernon says. “If you can do these things, you’re lowering your risk for tooth decay and gum disease.” Lazy oral hygiene can be a precursor to gingivitis, which leads to gum disease. “Gingivitis comes when you don’t clean your teeth where the tooth meets the gum,” Vernon explains. “The plaque accumulates on the gum line, which can become inflamed and swollen.” Diligent brushing and flossing is much more effective than a quick swish of mouthwash, Vernon says.

In fact, the active ingredients in toothpaste, specifically fluoride, may make for a more effective DIY mouthrinse.

Want a Quick Mouthrinse? Just Use Toothpaste

Vernon suggests putting a dab of toothpaste on your tongue and swishing with water for those who enjoy the ritual of mouthwash—the fluoride helps prevent tooth decay.

There are a few special exceptions where mouthwash can be helpful—it may refresh breath quickly, and reduce oral thrush (although an antifungal is recommended), but Vernon says “brushing for five seconds would be more helpful than mouth rinse.”

Bottom line? Don’t ditch the toothbrush and floss, and make sure you get to your dentist on a regular basis for a cleaning. If you love mouthwash, Vernon says you’re better off looking for a brand with fluoride that is also alcohol-free. “Alcohol will dry the tissue [in your mouth],” he says.