Oral explosion anyone? Don’t mind if I don’t.

There is something I have been needing to get off my chest.  That advert.  The one with the exploding mouth whilst the bloke rinses with a well known mouthwash.  Bloody irritating.  Cleans 99.9% of bacteria *small print* in healthy mouths.  Oh, piss off.  It’s like those mascara adverts with the scandalous eyelashes.  79% of women agree *small print* from a study of 13 women.  The only scandalous thing is their misuse of the word scandalous.

So let’s discuss mouthwashes.  Do they have a place in our bathroom cabinets or should they be pushed aside for more important things like Rescue Remedy and emergency bottles of gin?  (I have tried to keep this evidence based without putting my own stuff in so if there are any other tooth botherers out there that disagree, please feel free to comment.  I may not include your comment but hey, I like the power.)

When researching mouthwashes apart from getting bored quite quickly, it was mainly the ‘treatment’ mouthwashes that were studied such as the chlorhexidine based ones.  So let’s have a few words on them first.

Pros: Good for treating symptoms of gum disease in the short term but not a cure (bleeding gums is the most common symptom…no you haven’t brushed too hard).  Has a very effective antibacterial and antiseptic action.

Cons: Can be high in alcohol.  Stains the teeth.  Affects the flora and fauna of the whole mouth.  Can affect taste.  Can increase tartar build up.  Not a long term solution.

There, a few words.

Next are the 14,367 fluoride rinses that are available on the market (an estimated guess).  The research papers I read seemed to be sponsored by Johnson & Johnson so I have taken the facts that I know to be true and summarised as follows:

Pros: Provides a topical application of fluoride.  Does have an antibacterial action.  Can help to remineralise enamel (harden soft bits).

Cons: Not a substitute for brushing.  Another expense.  Some are high in alcohol so watch out if using with kiddies (make sure it specifies alcohol-free).

How does this apply to the real world?  Well, fluoride works in two ways – the first is if it is swallowed, it can have an affect on the teeth whilst they are forming making the enamel harder and more resistant to acid.  It can also help the tooth form shallower pits and fissures so instead of looking like the grand canyon, it’ll look more like a smooth crater.  There are a lot more places to hide in a canyon, so having smooth craters means it’s easier for our toothbrushes to brush the bacteria away.  This doesn’t mean that it is a good idea to start eating toothpaste as too much fluoride can lead to fluorosis.  The second way is when the tooth has popped out, fluoride can have an affect on the bacteria’s ability to produce acid, or in other words, it gives them constipation.  It can also help the tooth surface to re-harden if it has been softened by bacteria turd.

Right, well, that still doesn’t answer the question of whether they’re worth it.  These are my thoughts:

Just a reminder of my beautiful diagram of how tooth decay occurs.
Just a reminder of my beautiful diagram of how tooth decay occurs.
  • I think if you have a high incidence of tooth decay in the family (which might be more diet related), or you are medically compromised in some way, elderly or have been told you are at higher risk of tooth decay by your dentist, then yes, a mouthwash is beneficial.
  • To the average Joe, I’d say the best way to prevent tooth decay is to limit sugar in between meals and DON’T rinse with water after you’ve brushed your teeth, especially at night.  That way you leave the fluoridey, foamy goodness on the teeth whilst your salivary bodyguard has gone away for the night.
  • For children, they don’t always have the ability to spit out so better to stick to just toothpaste but NOT to rinse with water afterwards.  If the dentist has advised you that little soft bits have started to appear on the teeth, get the dentist to show you where they are and you can topically apply the toothpaste (that goes for the grown-ups too), but most importantly cut down on sugar in between meals.

Of course, mouthwashes do have their place, but the reason I don’t like the adverts is because I feel they are misleading and give the impression they are more superior than they actually are (it’s the same with the baby milk adverts…oh come on, I had to crowbar a dig in somewhere!).  They give an impression that they are just as important as toothbrushing – it’s far easier to swill your mouth out for a few seconds than brush for 2 minutes so I think it can encourage laziness.  So what if your child hates toothpaste?  Well my friends, that’s a whole different blog altogether so watch this space.

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