The oral care aisle in your local grocery store or pharmacy is probably filled with a dizzying array of mouthwash varieties. Having so many choices can make it difficult to decide which type of mouthwash is right for you. In this blog post, we’ll break down some key differences between each type of mouthwash to help you decide which type is best for your particular situation.
Cosmetic Vs. Therapeutic
All mouthwash falls into one of two broad categories: cosmetic or therapeutic. A cosmetic mouthwash doesn’t necessarily have medicinal ingredients in it. It could help mask your bad breath or whiten your teeth, but it won’t work to resolve the underlying conditions that might be causing oral issues. Cosmetic mouthwashes usually contain ingredients like essential oils that may help ease some symptoms, but they might not contain active pharmaceutical ingredients that will treat ailments.
A therapeutic mouthwash will contain active ingredients that will address the underlying causes of oral health issues. Therapeutic mouthwashes will contain active ingredients like antimicrobial agents, oral anesthetics, or other pharmaceuticals that will kill bacteria, ease pain, or reduce inflammation. Many therapeutic mouthwashes can be purchased over-the-counter. Stronger formulations of therapeutic mouthwashes may require a prescription.
When choosing between a cosmetic or therapeutic mouthwash, you should ask yourself whether you need a mouthwash to resolve minor aesthetic issues, or if you have an underlying problem that needs to be resolved.
Prescription Vs. Non-Prescription
The difference between prescription and non-prescription (or over-the-counter) mouthwashes is primarily a difference of potency. Prescription mouthwashes are more potent, and often contain ingredients that can have side effects that need to be closely monitored by a medical professional. Non-prescription mouthwashes usually contain ingredients that aren’t as potent, but also aren’t as risky to use.
When in doubt, it’s bets to start off with non-prescription mouthwashes to see if they are strong enough to resolve any oral health concerns. If you need a more potent solution, your dentist can recommend a prescription-strength mouthwash that’s specific to the oral health issue that you have. Never use prescription mouthwashes that are not prescribed to you.
What To Look For In Ingredients
Specific ingredients target specific types of oral health problems. Mouthwash labels may describe what oral health issues they resolve, but it’s better to look at the ingredients on the label to get the real story. Here are some examples of mouthwash ingredients you might see, and what they do:
Essential oils – Used to freshen breath, control plaque, and treat gingivitis. Often used in non-prescription mouthwash.
Chlorhexidine – This ingredient is a more powerful chemical used to control plaque and treat gingivitis. Chlorhexidine is found in prescription-strength mouthwash.
Cetylpyridinum Chloride – This compound is an antimicrobial agent that kills the bacteria and microorganisms responsible for creating bad breath. It is also effective at reducing plaque and treating gingivitis. The presence of cetylpyridinum chloride is a good indicator of the difference between cosmetic and therapeutic mouthwashes – cosmetic mouthwashes won’t include this ingredient.
Fluoride – This ingredient prevents tooth decay.
Peroxide – Peroxide is a whitening agent that is used in tooth-whitening mouthwashes.
The ADA Seal Of Acceptance
One of the most important distinctions in mouthwash products is the presence of the ADA Seal of Acceptance. This is an icon with the American Dental Association (ADA) logo that is printed on the label of various oral health products. If a mouthwash bottle has the ADA Seal of Acceptance printed on the label, then the product has been scientifically reviewed by experts at the American Dental Association. The ADA only approves products that can demonstrate that they are safe and effective. Buying a product with the ADA Seal of Acceptance assures you that the product you are buying will actually do what it claims to do, and will be free of any health risks.
When evaluating which mouthwash to use, follow these steps:
- Determine what strength you need – cosmetic, over-the-counter, or prescription strength.
- If you need prescription-strength mouthwash, consult your dentist for a recommendation and a prescription.
- For over-the-counter mouthwashes, look for ones with the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
- Consider which oral health problems you’re trying to resolve or prevent.
- Look for a mouthwash that contains ingredients designed to treat the issues you want to address.
You might find multiple mouthwashes that fit your criteria. In that case, online reviews might be helpful in making your choice. If a product is highly-rated by consumers or dentists, it’s probably a good choice.