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Mouthwash: History, Uses, And Types | Hawaii Family Dental

Written by Danica Lacson on September 28, 2018

What is a mouthwash?

Mouthwash is known by many names – mouth rinse, oral rinse, or mouth bath. It is a liquid, usually an antiseptic solution, which is gargled as an added cleansing agent and a proposed solution to dental concerns.

What are the types of mouthwash?

There are two main types of mouthwash namely the cosmetic and the therapeutic types.

  • Therapeutic mouthwashes have active ingredients intended to control and reduce bad breath, gum disease, plaque buildup, and dental caries. These mouthwashes have active ingredients such as cetylpyridinium chloride, chlorhexidine, essential oils, fluoride, and peroxide. Therapeutic mouthwashes are available over-the-counter or by prescription.
  • Cosmetic mouthwashes have no chemical or biological application beyond temporary benefit. These mouthwashes can temporarily control bad breath.

What are the uses of mouthwash?

Mouthwashes are designed to address dental issues like bad breath, plaque and gingivitis, tooth decay, a whitening agent, and as a topical pain relief.

Bad breath

Therapeutic mouthwashes like antimicrobials can be a long-term solution to halitosis or bad breath because of their chlorhexidine, chlorine dioxide, cetylpyridinium chloride, and essential oil formulations. Other agents contained in these mouthwashes such as zinc salts, ketone, terpene, and ionone can also inhibit odor-causing compounds. On the one hand, cosmetic mouthwashes only temporarily mask of bad breath by providing a pleasing flavor but do not fight off volatile Sulphur compounds (VSCs) which are contributing factor to bad breath.

Plaque and Gingivitis

The antimicrobial ingredients of mouthwashes reduce plaque and the incidence of gingivitis as chlorhexidine allows better plaque control.

Tooth decay

Fluoride ions in mouthwashes can help in the remineralization of teeth and reduce tooth decay.

Topical pain relief

Anesthetics like lidocaine, benzocaine hydrochloride, phenol, etc. which are present in mouthwashes can offer pain relief.


Active ingredients like carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide can contribute to staining reduction on teeth.

The uses and benefits of mouthwashes are most effective with the combined effects of brushing, flossing and a routine check-up with your dentist. Rinsing with mouthwash is not recommended for children below six years old because swallowing reflexes have yet to be developed at this age.

How to use a mouthwash?

Using mouthwash is pretty simple. You pour the contents of the mouthwash in cup, take them to your mouth, gargle, swish, then spit out. And to maximize the benefits of rinsing with mouthwash, here are some tips you can:

Do not eat at least 30 minutes after rinsing with mouthwash. Well, you do not want to mix the taste of the mouthwash and your food, right? Moreover, give your mouth time to absorb the benefits of mouthwash before subjecting it to another round of eating.

When should I rinse with mouthwash?

Typically, mouthwash comes last in the basic oral hygiene practice for optimum oral care.

When brushing, you rid your mouth the food particles that may have lingered in your mouth after a good meal. However, brushing is insufficient in keeping your mouth totally free from food particles and plaque. The space between your teeth may have stuck a food particle that your toothbrush cannot reach.

Flossing comes in as a way to rid your mouth of those leftover particles. As a finale, mouthwash rinses any other piece of leftover that brushing and flossing have missed.

Keep the use of mouthwash minimal. Although it helps fight off cavities and keep your oral health in check, excessive mouthwash use, especially that contains alcohol, is not recommended as it can cause too much chemical exposure.

How did the practice of using mouthwash begin?

Mouthwash traces its history to about 2,700 B.C. in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine where the first known references to the practice for the treatment of gingivitis were found.

During the Greek and Roman periods, mouth rinsing has become a common practice among upper classes, with the Father of Medicine Hippocrates recommending the use of salt, alum, and vinegar mixture.

Rabbinic Judaism text Talmud, which dates back about 1,800 years, contained suggestion on curing gum diseases by dough water and olive oil. Native North American and Mesoamerican cultures were also found to have used mouthwashes made from plants before the arrival of Europeans.

The year 1892 saw the invention of Odol, a mouthwash product by Richard Seifert. Odol was produced by Karl August Lingner, a company founder from Dresden. In the late 1960s, then-professor at the Royal Dental College in Denmark Harald Loe demonstrated the potential of chlorhexidine compound to prevent plaque buildup.

The following years saw the increase in commercial interest on mouthwashes which continually progressed. Mouthwash variants in the United States alone have jumped from 15 in the 70s to 113 in 2012.

Disclaimer: The oral health information published on this web page is solely intended for educational purposes. Hawaii Family Dental strongly recommends to always consult licensed dentists or other qualified health care professionals for any questions concerning your oral health.


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