While water supplies, toothpaste and mouthwash all contain fluoride, mouthwashes contain a minimal amount of fluoride and won't put your fluoride intake over the top [source: ACT]. Mouthwash can bring additional benefits to preventing both cavities and bacteria-induced gingivitis, but given the variety of mouthwashes available, it can be tough to figure out which one is best for you. Here's a breakdown [sources: Haiken, Seward]:
- If you want to simply freshen your breath, try a basic mouthwash that has a low alcohol content. The main ingredients in these are chlorine and zinc, which combat bad breath bacteria for a short period of time.
- If you're looking for a stronger mouthwash to help protect you from gum disease and plaque buildup, you want an antibacterial mouthwash; these are higher in alcohol content and also contain ingredients such as eucalyptol and menthol.
- If your water supply isn't fluorinated, mouthwashes that contain fluoride can coat your teeth after rinsing and help strengthen your tooth enamel.
- If you already have gingivitis, your dentist can prescribe a mouthwash that contains chlorhexidine, the strongest ingredient to fight gingivitis-causing bacteria. These rinses can only be prescribed by a dentist and are not available over the counter.
- You can find, or even make at home, mouthwash made with all natural ingredients and are alcohol-free. These rinses contain essential oils such as peppermint oil, astringents such as aloe vera, and baking soda. Their effectiveness to fight cavities is not proven, but it's a natural alternative to other rinses.
The ADA does not recommend mouthwash or rinses for children younger than age 6 because many of them contain alcohol. Children are more prone to swallow mouthwash instead of just swishing it around and spitting it out. Another concern is that mouthwash may stunt the natural ability of saliva to help wash bacteria away from teeth. Since alcohol is a drying agent, using an alcohol-based mouthwash will actually dry out your mouth. This can prevent your mouth from producing saliva, and the cycle of natural antibacterial removal is stopped [source: 1-800-Dentist]. Ask your dentist which toothpaste and mouthwash combination will be the most beneficial for your mouth.