British might once have been synonymous with bad teeth, but most of us know that brushing twice a day is a good thing – and so is regularly using mouthwash. It protects our teeth from decay, keeps our mouths clean and healthy, fights off gum disease and freshens up our breath. The less well-behaved among us may also try to use it to cover up the fact they’ve been smoking or boozing over lunchtime, though nobody is fooled.
So the big question isn’t whether you should use mouthwash, but which mouthwash is best for you. Faced with a bewildering range of options? We’re here to help you out.
How to buy the right mouthwash for you
How do mouthwashes work?
Mouthwashes all have a few things in common. They’re all designed to inhibit the build-up of plaque, and they generally have a strong-tasting, strong-smelling mint flavour that’s designed to freshen up your breath. The key ingredient, as with toothpaste, is fluoride. This protects the teeth from the acid erosion that occurs when plaque bacteria meets sugars in the mouth, by reducing the production of acid. It can also strengthen or repair any lost enamel. Most high-quality mouthwashes will have a fluoride level of 200 to 250ppm (parts per million).
Some mouthwashes include additional active anti-bacterial or antiseptic agents, including cetylpyridium chloride (CPC) and sodium bicarbonate, germicides such as Triclosan, along with sodium chloride, which can loosen debris between the teeth and freshen breath.
Should mouthwash have alcohol or not?
Many types of mouthwash use alcohol (specifically ethanol) as a carrier for their active ingredients. The amounts are small and, as you don’t actually swallow the mouthwash, you don’t need to worry about getting sloshed: there’s a slight rise in the alcohol content of your breath, but this fades away after around ten minutes. However, alcohol can dry your mouth, causing it to release the stinky sulphur compounds that can compound halitosis. Some studies have also suggested that alcohol mouthwashes could increase the chance of developing oral cancers – although this hasn’t been firmly established. For these reasons (or on religious grounds) you may prefer a non-alcoholic mouthwash.
Specialist mouthwash for gum disease or white teeth
In addition to your standard mouthwashes, you’ll also find formulations specifically designed to combat gum disease or whiten teeth. The former type mostly contains chlorohexidine or hydrogen peroxide. This can be very effective, but it leaves the mouth with a strong aftertaste and often a numb sensation. Worse, if you use a powerful chlorohexidine mouthwash over long periods, your teeth can get discoloured – although if you buy a “daily” mouthwash it will contain a lower concentration that shouldn’t cause problems.
Hydrogen peroxide meanwhile can have its own undesirable side effects, including swelling or irritation in the mouth for some users. Since it’s a bleaching agent, it can help whiten teeth temporarily, but not to the same degree as a good whitening toothpaste.
Some mouthwashes can be rough on sensitive teeth, but you can find variants designed to protect your tender nerves, either by using an active ingredient like arginine to repair the enamel and cover them up or by applying ingredients that numb the sensitive parts.
How to use mouthwash
It’s important to understand that mouthwash isn’t a cure-all dental potion. If you’re concerned about gum disease, tooth decay or bad breath, it’s no substitute for brushing twice a day, properly, top and bottom, front and back, for two minutes every time. When you do use mouthwash, keep it in your mouth for a good thirty seconds before rinsing. And try to avoid doing it immediately after brushing your teeth: you could actually be rinsing the helpful fluoride in your toothpaste away.
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The best mouthwash to buy from £3.19
1. Listerine Total Care: The best all-round mouthwash – if you don’t mind the sting
Price: £4.29 (500ml) | Buy now from Superdrug
Listerine dominates the mouthwash market, and Total Care is its flagship product. Boldly, it claims to kill up to 97% of germs, while reducing plaque by up to 56% more than brushing alone. If that’s not enough, it also takes care of tartar, bad breath and gum disease. Regular users feel it does a great job of cleaning and battling bacteria, not to mention freshening breath and strengthening teeth, with ingredients like menthol, eucalyptol and benzoic acid that contribute to its powerful, minty taste. The downside is the classic Listerine “sting” which some people love but some people hate. If you’re in the former camp you won’t want to use anything else, and there’s an alcohol-free version – Total Care Zero – for those who want to avoid the slightest contact with booze.
Key specs – Mint-flavoured mouthwash; Key ingredients: Fluoride (220ppm), menthol, eucalyptol, benzoic acid
£2.40 (£0.96 / 100 ml) Buy now
2. Colgate Plax Soft Mint: The best alcohol-free mouthwash for sensitive mouths
Price: £3.50 (500ml) | Buy now from Boots
If you don’t appreciate the full-on taste of Listerine, try Colgate Plax Soft Mint instead. This mild-mannered mouthwash contains no alcohol and has an easy-going minty flavour, without a hint of sting. It has the same fluoride content as more expensive, dentist-promoted brands, to protect against plaque and keep your teeth and gums feeling healthy, and it’s cheap too – what’s not to like?
Key specs – Mint-flavoured mouthwash; Key ingredients: Fluoride (225ppm), menthol
£5.85 (£11.70 / l) Buy now
3. Corsodyl Daily: The best daily mouthwash for gums
Price: £3.19 (500ml) | Buy now from Superdrug
Corsodyl is best known for its inten