Can mouth rinses remove plaque or prevent gum disease?

Dante A. Gonzales, DMD
Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics
Mouthrinses cannot remove plaque. Mouthrinses can kill many of the superficial layers of bacteria, but cannot remove the bacteria/plaque that is attached to the teeth and gums at a deeper level. In order to remove the plaque brushing and flossing must be done to physically remove the plaque off of the teeth.

Once the plaque has been removed, a mouthrinse can be used to help remineralize the teeth with fluoride. Most will also leave a fresher feeling and taste in the mouth. However, many of the mouthrinses contain alcohol or detergents that will dry the mouth and lead to increased levels of plaque and eventually bad breath. After proper brushing and flossing its best to use a non-alcoholic mouthrinse, preferably one that contains fluoride and has been approved by the ADA.

The best way to reduce unhealthy plaque and prevent gum disease is promote a healthy balanced biofilm. That is accomplished by using nourishing and balancing oral health products and avoiding strong detergents or alcohol-based mouth rinses which disturb and denature the natural ecology of the mouth. Most patients are unaware that "sticky, smelly dental plaque" is actually an unhealthy expression of an important beneficial and protective oral biofilm in the mouth. When in balance this biofilm aids in digestion and is an important part of the salivary immune system. Promoting a healthy balance of the oral biofilm results in a clean and healthy mouth which does not require a "cover up" of overpowering mouth rinses or detergent-based oral care products.

There is no mouthwash that can substitute brushing and flossing. However, there are anti-bacterial mouthwashes that can help decrease the amount of plaque build-up which intern will help prevent gum disease. It is best to talk to your dentist to evaluate your gum condition and recommend a mouthwash that would be best suited for you.


Peggy Rosen
If you already have plaque on your teeth, mouth rinse will not remove the plaque. You need to have your teeth cleaned in the dental office first; the dentist will prescribe mouth rinses and other home maintenance instructions for you to follow. 

After few months, you might need to see the dentist again to evaluate the condition of your gums. Sometimes, the dentist needs to clean deeper in order for your gums to heal properly.
Your dentist can advise you whether you need a mouthrinse depending on your oral health needs. A therapeutic mouthrinse can help reduce plaque, gingivitis, cavities, and bad breath. Therapeutic mouthrinses that contain fluoride help prevent or reduce tooth decay. Cosmetic mouthrinses may temporarily control or reduce bad breath and leave the mouth with a pleasant taste, but don’t deal with the causes of bad breath or kill the bacteria that cause bad breath. Cosmetic mouthrinses do not help reduce plaque, gingivitis or cavities.

If you have difficulty brushing and flossing, a mouthrinse may provide additional protection against cavities and gum disease. Look for products that carry the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance, which have been tested for their safety and effectiveness. 

Antimicrobial mouthwashes can help to control plaque build up and prevent gingivitis. Many products are "accepted" by the American Dental Association (ADA) and use their seal of approval on their product labeling. The ADA seal of acceptance process is rigorous and products must be shown to be safe and effective. Antimicrobial mouthwashes can also successfully reduce bad breath. Side effects of rinsing with mouthwashes that contain alcohol are a mild stinging or burning sensation and dry mouth.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.