Mouthwash can do a lot to keep your mouth clean and healthy. That’s why dentists often recommend that mouthwash be a part of your regular oral hygiene routine (Just remember that mouthwash should not replace regular brushing and flossing). According to our own Dr. Marchbanks, a general dentist in Arlington, Texas, mouthwash freshens breath, helps prevent or control tooth decay, reduces plaque, prevents or reduces gingivitis, and reduces the speed that tartar forms on the teeth. But most people have no idea what is in the mouthwash they use every day. As with any product, you need to make an informed decision on what you use to maintain good oral hygiene.
Most mouthwashes have the same basic ingredients: water, alcohol, cleansing agents, flavoring ingredients, and coloring agents. The ADA explains that the other ingredients will depend on the type of mouthwash, but they can be grouped into four categories:
- “Antimicrobial agents act directly on oral bacteria to help reduce plaque, decrease the severity of gingivitis and control bad breath. “
- “Fluoride helps reduce tiny lesions (tooth decay) on tooth enamel and make teeth more resistant to decay.”
- “Astringent salts can serve as temporary deodorizers that mask bad breath.”
- “Odor neutralizers act by chemically inactivating odor causing compounds.”
Knowing these categories is certainly important, but when you read the list of ingredients in your mouth wash and it contains a long list of scientific sounding names that most of us have probably never heard of. Here’s a list of some of the most common ingredients and a description of what they are:
- Thymol: Thymol sounds like something incredibly artificial and harmful, but it’s actually something called a biocide, a naturally occurring class of compounds that have strong anti-microbial properties. Thymol is a naturally occurring mixture of compounds in the plant thyme. It has a lot of uses, but it’s a common ingredient in both mouthwash and toothpaste because it’s anti-microbial properties help prevent the formation of plaque on the teeth, and it also helps prevent the growth of bacteria in the oral cavity.
- Methyl Salicylate: Methyl salicylate is the scientific name for wintergreen oil. It is a naturally occurring compound produced by a number of different plants, including wintergreens. Methyl salicylate is an antiseptic agent which can reduce infection in the oral cavity.
- Menthol: Menthol is an organic compound made from peppermint or other mint oils, but it can also be made synthetically. Menthol has a number of different uses, but in mouthwash, it provides fresh breath and can help alleviate mouth pain from ulcers or gum disease.
- Benzalkonium Cholride: This is a mixture which functions as an antiseptic agent, which reduces bacteria in the mouth and protects it from infection. In the last few years people have begun to question the safety of this mixture, but reputable scientific studies have largely indicated the only danger comes from allergic reactions.
- Hydrogen Peroxide: The same hydrogen peroxide we keep in our medicine cabinets for cuts and abrasions is also in many mouthwashes and it has exactly the same function (and it is safe to use orally). It kills and reduces bacteria and viruses.
- Methylparaben: Methylparaben is produced naturally and is found in several fruits. In mouthwash it is used as a type of preservative, which also functions as an anti-microbial agent. Many people believe that there is a link between parabens and cancer because breast cancer patients often have high levels of paraben. However, there is no direct or causal link between parabens and cancer. Wikipedia explains this in detail and it provides links to several reputable scientific studies which debunk the myth of parabens and cancer.
- Domiphen Bromide: This compound is another type of chemical antiseptic and anti-microbial agent which reduces bacteria in the mouth.
- Eucalyptol: Eucalyptol is a naturally occurring organic compound used primarily in mouthwashes and couch suppressants. It’s a common ingredient in both mouthwash and cough suppressants because it can help control the hypersecretion of mucous production. Eucalyptol is also frequently used as a flavoring agent.
- Hexetidine is an anti-microbial and anti-fungal agent commonly used in medicine. It also functions to reduce plaque.
- Chlorhexidine: Chlorhexidine is a chemical antiseptic commonly used in mouthwash to reduce plaque and bacteria in the mouth.
All of these ingredients are safe to use orally. However, if you still don’t like the idea of putting some of these ingredients in your mouth, you can make your own mouthwash. This website provides you with instructions and recipes on how to make mouthwash at home.