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How Effective Is Mouthwash for Bacteria?

By Lee Johnson
Updated May 21, 2024
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Using mouthwash for bacteria is generally very effective, but some types of mouthwash have less of an effect than others. Generally speaking, any mouthwash labeled as “antiseptic” is capable of killing bacteria, but the amount of bacteria it can kill is dependent on the concentration of the active ingredient. Some mouthwashes are useless in killing bacteria, and instead use peppermint oil to counteract the bad breath associated with bacteria growth within the mouth. Effective ingredients in mouthwash for bacteria include alcohol, sodium fluoride, and hydrogen peroxide. Although alcohol is commonly regarded as an effective bacteria killer, it also dries out the mouth, which can make the problem worse.

The most important thing shoppers should look for when purchasing a mouthwash is the inclusion of the word “antiseptic” on the label. Antiseptic is defined as being able to make the area free from bacteria or microorganisms. Some mouthwashes only mask the smell of bad breath using something like peppermint oil. These mouthwashes should be avoided by people suffering from bad breath because they don’t fight the bacteria, just the smell. Most mouthwashes will have some antiseptic effect, but the precise method they use to create that effect can help determine which is more effective overall.

Alcohol is common in mouthwash because of its bacteria-fighting properties. Technically speaking, a 70 percent concentration of alcohol is the most effective at fighting bacteria, but such high levels of alcohol in mouthwash may cause problems. Aside from the possibility of children drinking mouthwash for the alcohol content, alcohol is also known to dry out the mouth. People with dry mouths also suffer from bad breath, so while alcoholic mouthwash kills bacteria, it does not affect the end result of that problem. Therefore, mouthwashes which do not contain alcohol but have another bacteria-killing agent are more effective.

Other possible ingredients in mouthwash for bacteria prevention and reduction include sodium fluoride and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide can still cause some drying of the mouth, but this isn’t as pronounced as the effect caused by alcohol. Sodium fluoride is another possible ingredient in mouthwash for bacteria prevention. Typically, this chemical is used in pesticides, but research has shown that mouthwashes containing it are effective at killing bacteria. Fluoride also helps to fight cavities.

Overall, most brands of mouthwash will be effective at killing bacteria. The use of mouthwash for bacteria is primarily to combat bad breath, so alcohol-containing brands are not as effective as alcohol-free brands. It is important to note that people suffering from bad breath should also be sure to brush their teeth regularly and to floss to help the problem.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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