Should You Use Mouthwash Before or After Brushing?
Medically reviewed by Dr Jerry Jesin

Should You Use Mouthwash Before or After Brushing?

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Are you planning to add a mouthwash to your oral hygiene and health practices? Here are all you need to know to choose the right mouthwash according to your needs, and how to make the most of it, whether to freshen your breath or protect your teeth from decay.

Should You Use Mouthwash Before or After Brushing?

The good news is, it won’t matter. You can rinse your mouth with mouthwash before or after you brush and/or floss without significantly affecting its benefits.

Do I Need To Rinse with Mouthwash?

It’s important to first address that rinsing your mouth with mouthwash isn’t a substitute for regular brushing and flossing your teeth. Mouthwash, however, can help amplify the benefits of maintaining good oral hygiene.

Also, when you have difficulties in proper brushing and flossing your teeth for one reason or another, mouth rinse can protect your mouth from bacterial build up and help reduce risks for tooth decay or cavity. Obviously, mouthwashes can also help to freshen breath and reduce foul mouth odor (or halitosis).

Different mouthwashes, however, can provide different benefits. Some might only function to freshen breath, and others might have antibacterial qualities. Specific mouthwash, prescribed by your dentist, can help in special conditions like fungal infections.

A mouth rinse, however, can’t cure serious problems like a severe tooth cavity, dental abscess, or gum disease. Persistent bad breath or halitosis is usually a sign of underlying oral health problems, so see your dentist immediately.

Do’s and Don’ts of Mouth Rinse

Here are some important things to keep in mind when choosing between different mouthwashes or using one:

  • In general, you won’t find a one-size-fits-all mouthwash that can help with all oral health issues. Instead, figure out your most pressing needs and the best possible mouthwash that can help with your condition. For example, if you are recovering from wisdom tooth extraction, select an appropriate product to help with the recovery period. 

  • Again, mouthwash is not a replacement for the regular visit to your dentist (at least twice a year), and proper oral hygiene practices like regular brushing and flossing your teeth. Think of rinsing your mouth as a complementary activity to enhance these other activities’ benefits.

  • Always check the label of the mouthwash you are going to use. Different types and brands have different concentrations, some might require you to dilute them with water before use. On the other hand, if the label doesn’t recommend dilution, doing so might prevent you from getting the full benefit of the mouthwash, especially if the mouthwash has an antibacterial property.

  • In general, use the mouthwash for 30 seconds to one minute before you should spit it out. Again, read the label and check for the correct recommendation. 

Common Mouthwash Ingredients and Their Use

As mentioned above, check the mouthwash’s label carefully for the ingredients included in the mouthwash, and their benefits.

Here are the common ingredients included in a mouth rinse product:

  1. Fluoride: the most common, and probably the most famous. Fluoride can reduce bacterial buildup, reducing risks of tooth decay and cavities

  2. Astringent salt: a form of deodorizer, can freshen your breath and temporary ‘cover’ foul odor. 

  3. Odor neutralizer: as the name suggests, can help neutralize the cause of halitosis

  4. Whiteners or bleachers: for example, mouthwash containing peroxide can help remove stains from your teeth, as well as preventing stains from building up.

  5. Antimicrobials: the mouthwash contains ingredients that can kill bacteria in plaque buildup. It can also help in treating early-stage gum disease (gingivitis). 

How Mouthwash Works

Above, we have discussed that different mouthwash can include different ingredients and thus provide different benefits. Some are solely purposed to eliminate bad breath, some protect your teeth against decay and cavity, and so on.

In general, however, there are several main considerations in using the mouthwash and choosing between different types:

  • Anti-plaque ingredients: some mouthwashes offer plaque control functions, preventing plaque build-up while at the same time might also contain antibacterial ingredients to eliminate bacteria in this plaque. If you have oral health issues related to plaque, for example, if you are currently suffering from gingivitis, you might want to ask your dentist for suggestions about plaque control mouthwash to use.

  • Your tooth and gums sensitivity: people with overly sensitive gums and are currently suffering from tooth sensitivity might find certain types of mouthwash irritating or even too painful to use. Some mouthwashes contain natural ingredients like chamomile, green tea extracts, or aloe vera for a more relaxing effect. If you are currently recovering from a dental procedure (i.e. tooth extraction), ask your dentist for the right mouth rinse that is more ‘soothing’.

  • Alcohol:  Alcohol is a common ingredient of many types of mouthwash, due to its antibacterial and refreshing qualities. However, alcohol can produce two main issues: first, it can be problematic when swallowed—especially by children—, second, alcohol can reduce saliva production and cause mouth dryness. So, if your household includes children or teens, you might want to opt for alcohol-free mouthwash products. 

How and When To Use Mouthwash?

Read the label of each product carefully, as most products will provide a step-by-step instructions on how to use it. 

In general, however, here are some typical steps:

  • Use only the right amount, as indicated on the mouthwash’s label or as prescribed by your dentist

  • Keep your mouth closed and swish the mouthwash for 30 seconds to 1 minute or as instructed by the label.

  • Do not swallow. Mouthwashes can contain toxic materials when swallowed in a large amount, keep it away from a child’s reach, and supervise your children when using mouthwash. 

  • Avoid drinking or eating (and smoking) for 20 to 30 minutes after rinsing your mouth so you don’t rinse away the fluoride and any beneficial substances. 

Also, rinse your mouth for at least half a minute. Less than that, and it might not produce enough benefits. Be patient and use the mouthwash for at least a few weeks before you see significant results.

End Words

Mouthwash can certainly provide additional benefits to your existing oral health routine, especially in eliminating bad breath and preventing bacterial buildup. You shouldn’t however, treat mouthwash as a complete replacement to brushing your teeth i.e., rinsing your mouth before sleep because you are too lazy to brush. 

Nowadays, there are plenty of choices to choose from between many different types of mouthwash, so it’s important to choose the right one according to your needs or priorities.

Andrea Galick

Andrea Galick is an accomplished Dental Hygienist (RDH) with a passion for helping patients achieve optimal oral health. Andrea has built a reputation as a caring and skilled practitioner who puts her patients at ease and provides individualized care that meets their unique needs.