Vote for Good Oral Hygiene

My fellow citizens: If you are like most Americans, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a spool of dental floss are long-standing incumbents in your bathroom cabinet.

During Dental Hygiene Month, another candidate, mouthrinse (also known as mouthwash), is vying for a spot beside the aforementioned daily use products. Should you welcome it to this exclusive club?

For its part, mouthrinse has long campaigned on a cosmetic platform of simply reducing or eliminating bad breath and making your mouth feel fresh. The cosmetic mouthrinse caucus has a large and loyal following. People who use it like that it eliminates bad breath, morning mouth and pesky food particles when used after meals, and that it promises to meld easily into your morning or evening routine. These are noble ideals.

More recently, a new ideology, therapeutic mouthrinse, has tried to distance itself from the cosmetic party line. Therapeutic mouthrinse has on its slate active ingredients like fluoride to fight cavities, and anti-microbial agents (such as hydrogen peroxide) to combat plaque, gingivitis and other gum diseases.

Every candidate has its critics, however, and mouthrinse is no different. Some point out that cosmetic mouthwash has too limited an agenda, that it just masks bad breath but doesn’t reduce cavities, gingivitis or plaque. Others have questioned the harmful effects of some mouthrinse products’ high concentration of alcohol content (ranging anywhere from 6.6 percent to 26.9 percent). A small but vocal contingent believes that factor could be a risk for oral cancer, but so far the overall evidence does not support that conclusion.

These criticisms have led mouthwash to position itself as a dental hygiene populist product that can appeal to all people, introducing non-alcoholic varieties to please even the harshest critics. It has also rolled out exciting new flavors (like cinnamon, bubblegum and orange) to appeal to a block of voters who want fresh breath but desire more than just the taste of mint.

“Mouthrinses are not a substitute for brushing or flossing but they might be a useful addition to your daily oral hygiene routine,” said Dr. Bill Kohn, DDS, a mouthrinse campaign expert and Delta Dental’s vice president for dental science and policy. “At a minimum, most mouthrinses will at least provide temporary relief from bad breath. Check with your dentist if you have persistent bad breath or to see if you would benefit from a mouthrinse that has fluoride or anti-bacterial agents to protect against cavities or periodontal diseases.”

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