Mouthwash Not A Substitute For Oral Hygiene Routine

Posted on Nov 03, 2014 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

Several years ago, I heard Jessica Simpson had announced on an Ellen episode that she brushes her teeth “maybe three times a week.” Simpson said she uses Listerine and flosses everyday and uses “a shirt or something” to wipe her teeth. Claiming her breath is fresh, she feels her mouth has been adequately cleaned.

Being in the field of Periodontics, a dental specialty that focuses on the soft tissues in the mouth and dental implant placement, this misinformed attitude is jolting. By failing to adhere to proven preventive measures of twice-daily brushing, daily flossing and 6-month checkups and cleanings, there is an increased risk for a long list of oral health problems to come.

Plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that clings to teeth and gums, must be removed every 24 hours. In as little as 2 to 3 days, the bacteria begin to attack supporting bone and gum tissues around teeth. This is the beginning of decay and Gingivitis, the initial stage of periodontal disease.

Oral rinses are often best as a temporary breath freshener and an ‘add-on’ to a thorough oral hygiene regimen at home. While some oral rinses do help in the prevention of plaque or slowing the progress of tooth decay, they are ‘aids to’ rather than ‘substitutes for’ proper oral hygiene.

As plaque accumulates, calculus (or tartar), forms on teeth. Calculus is a hard substance formed by bacterial buildup that can only be removed by a dental professional using special tools. As calculus adds to the attack on tooth surfaces and gum tissue, this can lead to advanced gum disease, known as periodontitis. Periodontitis is the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss.

For oral rinses designed to temporarily reduce bad breath, most fail to combat the causes of bad breath. They don’t destroy the oral bacteria that cause bad breath nor inactivate odor causing compounds. Many assumed to clean the mouth are ineffective at reducing plaque or halting calculus.

If you frequently use mouthwash because of bad breath, there is an underlying problem that should be addressed by your dentist or a periodontal specialist. Persistent bad breath is a symptom of gum disease, which will only worsen without treatment.

Additionally, when oral bacteria enters the bloodstream through diseased gum tissue tears, it can trigger inflammation elsewhere in the body. The bacteria of periodontal disease has been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, memory loss, preterm babies and even impotency. This bacteria can even be transferred from one person to another through kissing or sharing food and beverages.

Some rinses actually do help in the fight against the oral bacteria that forms plaque. For individuals who find it physically difficult to brush and floss, certain oral rinses add some protection against cavities and periodontal (gum) disease. These preferably contain fluoride to protect tooth enamel as well. Too, for our patients who have had periodontal surgery, we typically prescribe an oral rinse to help deter bacteria buildup during the healing process.

If you’d like to add an oral rinse to your oral hygiene routine at home, ask your dentist to recommend a rinse with fluoride or antimicrobial agents to get the best benefit. However, twice daily brushing and flossing, combined with 6-month dental check-ups, is a necessary part of a healthy mouth – and there is no substitute.

Call (828) 274-9440 if you have questions or feel your periodontal health is at risk.

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