Best Mouthwashes 2021: Bad Breath, Cavities and COVID-19
Brushing and flossing are the cornerstones of a good oral health routine, but it turns out this duo should really be a trinity. Mouthwash is an important final step in any routine, and California-based dentist Joseph Field, DDS, recommends using it at least once a day—and ideally every time you brush.Rinsing with mouthwash not only helps release food particles and neutralize odors, but it also plays an important role in preventing plaque. That's because mouthwash kills bacteria, cosmetic dentist Brian Harris, DDS, tells Health. Although it's a natural part of the mouth's ecosystem, bacteria can turn into plaque when mixed with sugary or starchy foods, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If it's not removed when soft, the plaque can harden and cause serious oral health concerns, like cavities or even gingivitis (a.k.a inflammation of the gums). Incorporating a mouthwash into your routine reduces these risks and leaves your breath unbelievably fresh.
Equally important are the ingredients worth skipping. The biggest red flag on an ingredient list is alcohol, according to board-certified dentist Michaela Tozzi, DMD, since it can irritate the gums and oral tissue. Plus, it temporarily depletes saliva flow, which acts as the mouth's immune system. Tozzi suggests avoiding formulas with sulfates or sodium lauryl sulfate, which can also be irritants.
Dr. Harris, who founded his own natural oral care company Klen Products, offers a few additional no-go ingredients. He recommends skipping artificial dyes as well as antibacterial ingredients like chlorhexidine, hexetidine, and triclosan. Another additive you'll want to limit is hydrogen peroxide, a common addition to whitening mouthwashes. Excess amounts can harm the tooth enamel or inflame gums, according to Field, so anyone that develops irritation should cut back on use.
Finally, mouthwash should never be treated as the only—or even the most important—oral care step. "Nothing replaces mechanical removal of plaque and debris from the teeth like brushing, flossing, using a Waterpik, or tongue-scraping," says Dr. Tozzi. "Mouthwash does not replace optimal oral hygiene."
Ready to find your mouthwash match? Read our guide, below, to learn the best mouthwash options for every type of oral health concern.
Best Overall: Therabreath Fresh Breath Oral Rinse
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More than 21,000 people swear by this ADA-accepted oral rinse to keep their mouth in tip-top shape. Developed by dentists, it's clinically proven to keep breath smelling minty fresh for up to 24 hours without the use of harsh ingredients like artificial dye or alcohol. Plus, its pH-balanced formula maintains your mouth's non-acidic environment, so you won't have to worry about tooth erosion, tonsil stones, or gum sensitivity after use.
Bad breath doesn't just come from consuming onions and garlic. When bacteria turns into plaque, it releases smelly gases including volatile sulfur compounds, according to the brand's website—but this neutralizing formula can prevent the process. It uses sodium chlorite to kill bacteria and prevent bad breath from the source, rather than masking it. Plus, it follows both Dr. Harris' and Dr. Tozzi's guidelines: No alcohol, artificial dyes, or sodium lauryl sulfates.
Best for Gingivitis: OxyFresh Fresh Breath Lemon Mint Mouthwash
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New York City-based dentist Trey Wilson, DDS, previously told Health that he recommends this all-natural mouthwash for anyone suffering from gingivitis. Its formula combines chlorine dioxide and zinc to effectively kill bacteria for up to six hours, while soothing additions, like aloe vera, hydrate the gums. Better yet, even the most mint-averted taste buds won't mind swishing it around for 60 seconds thanks to its refreshing boost of citrus essential oils.
Best Whitening: Crest 3D White Brilliance Whitening Mouthwash
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Crest applied the same whitening technology from its whitening pen, strips, and toothpaste to this popular mouthwash. A favorite of more than 4,500 shoppers, it's developed without alcohol or hydrogen peroxide for a brightening treatment that is safe to use daily. In fact, the brand even promises whiter teeth in seven days when used after brushing—or you'll get a total refund.
Best for Receding Gums: Natural Dentist Healthy Gums Mouthwash
Aloe vera makes up 20% of this nourishing mouthwash formula to soothe irritated or bleeding gums—but its antibacterial properties are also a gentle way to reduce plaque (i.e. the cause of receding gums). The natural formula swaps chemicals for botanical ingredients like echinacea, goldenseal, and calendula, three plants often used by herbalists to fight inflammation. Available in both orange zest and peppermint twist flavors, it's also made without alcohol or artificial dyes, as suggested by our dental experts.
If the thought of using mouthwash gives you shivers, you probably have sensitive teeth. Skip the unpleasant experience by opting for this non-irritating rinse that's formulated specifically for sensitive mouths. The ADA-accepted wash kills 99.9% of germs in just 10 seconds, according to the brand, without alcohol. And since it's formulated to be pH neutral and comes unflavored, it's comparable to swishing water. It also includes an optional flavor enhancer—just add a drop into the bottle—if you prefer a subtle minty taste.
Best Fluoride: Toms Maine Whole Natural Mouthwash
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Dentists might recommend incorporating extra fluoride into your oral care routine if you need to strengthen teeth or reduce decay—and mouthwash is an easy way to do so. This all-natural option from Toms is made without alcohol, artificial colors, or preservatives, but it comes with an added boost of fluoride. The result is fresher breath and stronger enamel without questionable ingredients. Just be careful when storing around four-legged friends: The formula contains xylitol, an artificial sweetener that's dangerous for dogs.
Best for Plaque: Philips Sonicare Breathrx Antibacterial Mouth Rinse
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Every mouthwash with an active antibacterial ingredient technically tackles plaque—but not every formula does it this well. Reviewers think this one does the trick; one even said: "After three years since my last appointment and three years of using BreathRx (recommended by my last dentist) my current dentist is surprised how little plaque they needed to clean off of my teeth and how little there was between the teeth." Its primary active ingredient is cetylpyridinium chloride, an antimicrobial agent that's common in alcohol-free mouthwashes. The formula contains the recommended dosage of the antibacterial ingredient, as well as zinc and essential oil to promote fresher breath.
Best for COVID-19: Betadine Mouth Gargle
The antiseptic povidone-iodine has immediate virucidal effects against COVID-19 virus. There are 6 published studies on povidone-iodine for COVID-19 (c19pvpi.com). Povidone-iodine is also no. 1 in the COVID-19 'all mortality results for all stages' drug league table. Gargle twice a day or after having been out for prevention, and three times a day for early treatment of COVID-19. Contains 0.5% povidone-iodine antiseptic gargle.