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

When building your oral care foundation, you need three things: a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss. Use them well and regularly, and you'll likely avoid many dental problems. If this is the case then, should you use mouthwash? Is it even necessary?

Well, yes and no. You don't necessarily need mouthwash in your oral care regimen. But those who do have special oral needs might find certain medicated rinses helpful in alleviating their conditions. It also helps cut down on harmful oral bacteria; Listerine, one of the oldest brands, started as an antiseptic for surgical wounds. So, should you still use mouthwash, and for what reasons?

People have used it for centuries

Ancient civilizations had long used DIY rinses to keep their mouth clean and ward off tooth pain. Before its use as an antiseptic, mouthwash underwent various forms, from Portuguese urine to tortoise blood. Even then, people worried about bad breath, often looking for ways to dissipate the bad odor. 

It's interesting to note that this need seems to diverge from toothbrush and toothpaste's original intent. We recently talked about how early toothpaste had more abrasive ingredients to clean the teeth, although it never targeted oral bacteria and germs. One could then say that mouthwash became a necessary supplement that covered the problems brushing could not.

As toothpaste evolved, however, the need for mouthwash grew less and less. Modern toothpaste now contains antibacterial ingredients that the rinses of yore would have aspired for. What then called for a full brush-floss-rinse eventually needed only a brush-floss. So, why do we still use it?

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.

Different Types

Currently, there are several kinds of rinses to opt for. Some offer different goals or benefits. For example, to prevent cavities, we can use fluorine-rich ones. There are also specific ones to combat and eliminate plaque or halitosis (bad breath).

As for the little ones, use children specific ones. These usually have low or no alcohol content and a milder, sweeter flavor. Remember, allowing young children to use a mouthwash with high alcohol levels (between eighteen and twenty percent) can cause a burning sensation in the cheeks, teeth, and gums. If swallowed, poisoning may even result.

Tips for Using Mouthwash

Using mouthwash is simple. You pour the mouthwash contents into the mouthwash bottle's lid or a small cup and gargle, swish, and spit out the contents. To maximize the benefits of rinsing with mouthwash, here are some tips you can follow:

  • Do not eat at least 30 minutes after rinsing with mouthwash. You don't want to mix the taste of the mouthwash with your food. Moreover, give your mouth time to absorb the benefits of mouthwash before subjecting it to another round of eating.
  • Brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash. Typically, mouthwash comes last in essential oral hygiene steps. When brushing, you rid your mouth of the food particles that may be lingering in your mouth after eating. However, brushing is insufficient in keeping your mouth free from food particles and plaque. The space between your teeth may have stuck food particles that your toothbrush cannot reach. Thus, flossing comes in as a way to rid your mouth of those leftover particles. As a finale, mouthwash rinses any other particles that brushing and flossing missed.
  • Keep the use of mouthwash minimal. Although it helps fight off cavities and keeps your oral health in check, excessive mouthwash use, especially one with alcohol, is not recommended. After all, it can cause too much chemical exposure or even tooth sensitivity in some individuals.


It is undeniable that mouthwash helps keep breath fresh and clean. However, some people abuse mouthwash rinses, performing it three times a day.

According to a publication of the Dental Journal of Australia, excessive amounts of mouthwash could cause oral cancer due to high levels of alcohol. Know that mouthwashes with high alcohol content are not suitable for sensitive teeth. Keep this in mind when shopping for mouthwash.

Generally, it is essential to buy superior quality products. Mouthwash falls under that category. However, keep in mind that just because mouthwash is commonly used, it doesn't mean it's the right fit for you. Discuss with your dentist regarding the right mouthwash type or brand for your oral health standing.

History of Mouthwash

Mouthwash traces its history to about 2,700 B.C. in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. The first known references include using mouthwash to treat gingivitis.

During the Greek and Roman periods, mouth rinsing became a common practice among upper classes. The Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, would often recommend using salt, alum, and vinegar as a mouthwash.

In the Rabbinic Judaism text, Talmud, which dates back about 1,800 years, suggests curing gum disease with dough, salt, and olive oil. Native North American and Mesoamerican cultures were also found to have used mouthwashes made from plants before Europeans' arrival.

Odol, a mouthwash product by Richard Seifert, was introduced in 1892. 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 chlorhexidine's potential to prevent plaque buildup.

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

That said, it is clear that mouthwash has been a part of our world for many years. Thus, with this oral product being a heavy recommendation of many groups, cultures, countries, and tribes, it only makes sense to keep it in our routine.

DIY Recipes

Just reached into your bathroom cabinet only to find that your store-bought mouthwash bottle is empty? Or maybe you want to try an all natural one for fun?

No worries: There are healthy and effective alternatives that you can quickly whip up at home to get the trick done. In fact, you may like these DIYs so much that you may even consider permanently switching to them!

Recipe courtesy of Body Unburdened - While most of you won't have all of the ingredients already at home for this mouthwash recipe, it's still a very useful DIY to consider. This recipe includes some of the top essential oils for providing healthy gums and teeth.

  • 1 ½ cups of filtered water
  • 1 teaspoon of magnesium powder and sea salt or pink Himalayan salt (Salt halts bacteria growth, reduces inflamed gums, and heals oral cuts.)
  • 2 drops of spearmint, cinnamon, peppermint, clove, and myrrh essential oil

Add to a glass bottle and shake. For best results, use this all-natural, herbal DIY mouthwash twice a day. Make a new batch weekly to ensure the mouthwash doesn't spoil.

Bad Breath

Recipe courtesy of Everyday Roots - A great majority of mouthwash users turn to mouthwash primarily for combating bad breath. However, store-bought mouthwashes usually cover bad breath without fighting the real problem. If you're wanting fresher breath, this is the DIY mouthwash for you.

First off, the lemon juice in this recipe offers a refreshing scent. The cinnamon kills smelly bacteria. As for the baking soda, this emits oral bacteria and aids in whitening the teeth. As an added touch, the honey sweetens up the mouthwash while also containing antibacterial properties vital for the mouth.

  • Lemon juice of two lemons
  • ½ teaspoons of cinnamon
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoon of honey
  • 1 cup of warm water

Before each use, shake the bottle to mix ingredients thoroughly. Gargle and swish 1 to 2 tablespoons for about a minute, twice a day.

Whitening and Remineralizing

Recipe courtesy of Living the Nourished Life - In truth, everyone wants beautiful, pearly whites. Fortunately, you can ensure white and bright teeth with this whitening and remineralizing mouthwash.

In this DIY, the calcium carbonate allows for remineralization of the teeth. With a stevia touch, you can ensure this mouthwash will feature a delicious and natural-sweetening flavor that won't harm the teeth. The concentrated trace minerals liquid in this recipe helps remineralizes teeth. Lastly, the lemon essential oil provides whitener and brighter teeth, and the peppermint and spearmint essential oils allow for fresher breath and flavor.

  • 2 teaspoons of calcium carbonate powder
  • 10 drops of liquid stevia, concentrated trace minerals liquid, and peppermint essential oil
  • 5 drops of spearmint essential oil and lemon essential oil
  • 2 cups of filtered water

Use twice a day, swishing for 30 to 60 seconds during each use. This recipe has an approximate shelf life of about two weeks.

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