The ‘coolness’ of the color is meant to make you feel like your mouth will be crisp and refreshed after using it. It’s a way of marketing the product. But there’s more to mouthwash than just its color.
Let’s look at the typical ingredients that are found in a therapeutic type mouthwash.
There are the basic ingredients. These include: water, alcohol, cleansing agents, flavoring ingredients and coloring agents.
Please note: Mouthwash can be found without alcohol…we will look at the role that alcohol plays in mouthwash at the end of this blog.
There are also the active ingredients. These include anti-microbial agents, astringent salts, odor neutralizers and fluoride. We’ll discuss the purpose of each of the active ingredients:
1. Anti-microbial Agents: These act on oral bacteria to decrease plaque and cavities.
If bacteria in the mouth are rendered inactive, then they cannot convert food debris into acids that will cause decay. In addition, the reduced microbial levels will decrease the amount of plaque and the severity of gingivitis: this in turn helps to decrease bad breath, which is what we all desire from a mouthwash.
2. Astringent Salts: These temporarily decrease bad breath.
3. Odor Neutralizers: These chemically inactivate compounds that cause odors. These compounds are called Volatile Sulfur Compounds or V.S.Cs. They are produced by anaerobic bacteria in the mouth. Anaerobic means that the bacteria survive in the mouth without the need for oxygen. V.S.Cs cause bad breath and a poor taste in the mouth and are responsible for morning breath.
4. Fluoride: Acts to reduce and reverse cavities that have started to demineralise tooth enamel. It acts to strengthen the enamel.
The Role of Alcohol in Mouthwash
Alcohol acts to give a little zest and flavor to mouthwash. There are health risks related to alcohol in mouthwash though; namely:
• Mouthwash should not be used as a substitute for alcohol. This sounds logical, but you would be surprised what some people will turn to.
• Chronic use of alcohol in general can lead to an increase in oral cancer.
It is recommended that if you use mouthwash, to try to limit it to short term usage or, even better, try to use a mouthwash that is alcohol-free.
Please remember – mouthwash does not replace flossing and brushing…it is only meant to be used as an adjunct.
Happy rinsing everyone!
Yours in good dental health,
Dr. Robert Axelrad, Brampton Dentist