Is Your Mouthwash Giving You Cavities?

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

January 28, 2012

  • Can mouthwash trigger tooth decay?
  • A hidden cause of enamel erosion
  • Three easy ways to protect your pearly whites

When we were kids our parents taught us early on to take good care of our teeth… “If you’re true to your teeth, they won’t be false to you.”

Every night before bedtime you’d stand in the bathroom brushing your teeth for a minute or so. Next came flossing. And afterward you’d have to take a big yucky swish of Listerine, Lavoris or some other mouth rinse.

Only when the whole routine was complete were you allowed to go to bed.

It felt like torture. At least it did to me. But it also felt sort of good to know I’d wake up with fresh breath and a sparkling smile. (Although I have to admit… as a kid I never understood why I had to do it all over again in the morning. Only later did I learn that the mouth dries out overnight and allows bacteria to multiply.)

Back then our parents didn’t know plaque and oral bacteria could be linked to heart attack, dementia, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis down the road. They just knew it was important to take good care of our teeth. Or we would lose them.

Today you probably care for your teeth in much the same way. Brush, floss, swish, spit and you’re ready to go. So you may be wondering why your mouth is full of caps, crowns and fillings.

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After all, you’ve done everything right, haven’t you?

If you seem to be losing more and more teeth to cavities and tooth decay as you age you might have a very serious problem… with your mouthwash!

The advertisements for mouthwash are very compelling. “Remedy simple chronic halitosis!”… “Reduces plaque and gingivitis.”… “Kills germs that cause bad breath.”

All of these claims are true. Mouth rinses are great at killing bacteria in your mouth. After all, that’s why you use them, isn’t it?

But this is exactly where the problem lies. Because these rinses don’t just strip your mouth of the bad bacteria. They also wipe out all of the good bacteria that keep your mouth smelling fresh and protect your pearly whites from cavities and tooth decay.

For starters, a lot of these washes are loaded with alcohol. It’s used as a carrier to help other ingredients penetrate and break up plaque deposits. But while it’s doing all of this “good” work, it’s also destroying the mucus coating in your mouth that keeps it moist.

That may not sound like such a big deal. Trouble is, when your mouth is dry it can’t wash away harmful bacteria that cause cavities and bad breath. You end up with a severe imbalance of good bacteria versus bad. This gives S. mutans bacteria – the major culprit behind tooth decay – an opportunity to flourish.

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There’s also been a lot of talk about the risk of oral cancers associated with rinses containing alcohol. However, study results have been mixed.

Some researchers stand firm on the association. Others don’t believe the published studies support the connection. So the jury is still out on that one.

But whether there is a cancer connection or not, it’s still a good idea to avoid mouth rinses that contain alcohol.

Especially if you want to protect your teeth from decay.

You see, some of the most popular commercial rinses are very acidic. And high acidity leads to enamel erosion and tooth demineralization. Which increases your risk of tooth decay. It can also make your teeth more sensitive to hot and cold.

There are even experts who have compared mouthwashes to rinsing your mouth with orange juice or soda pop after brushing.

For example, in one study participants rinsed with mouthwash, orange juice or water twice a day. The researchers discovered some mouthwashes produced erosion similar to orange juice. And the erosion was much more significant than rinsing with water.

Now, if you really want to protect your teeth and avoid getting more crowns, caps and fillings, there is a way to do it…

Despite what you were taught as a child, commercial mouthwashes are not the final, magical defense against tooth decay and bad breath. You really can go to sleep without that swish of Listerine or Lavoris. And your dental health may be all the better for it.

The real prevention comes with brushing and flossing. Here is what you can do to maximize your dental and oral health…

Brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day. Do you remember how you felt when your Mom or Dad stood over you while you brushed your teeth? You got the job done in about 10 seconds, but they made you keep going. It felt like it took forever.

But they were right. Two minutes of brushing with a soft, small-headed toothbrush will clear out most of the bacteria and debris that cause cavities.

And make sure to give your tongue a healthy brushing while you are at it. Most of the odors and bacteria in your mouth hide at the back of your tongue. The only way to get rid of them is to brush or scrape them off.

Also, for the most benefit, I suggest using a natural toothpaste that doesn’t contain fluoride.

Always floss AFTER brushing. There are many places between the teeth that your toothbrush misses. So flossing is an important part of your daily oral care. But if you floss before you brush, you’ll end up pushing bacteria down into your gums. And your toothbrush can’t reach into those hidden nooks and crannies. So brush first, then floss.

Rinse with a natural mouthwash. You probably thought you were going to get out of that final swish. Truth is, rinsing is an important part of your daily oral regimen. It’s the commercial mouthwashes that are the problem. So stay away from them and opt for a natural, herbal-based dental rinse. Look for products that do not contain fluoride, alcohol, or saccharin.

Practicing these healthy oral habits will protect your teeth from enamel erosion, decay and demineralization. And your breath will smell fresher too.

McCullough MJ, Farah CS. The role of alcohol in oral carcinogenesis with particular reference to alcohol-containing mouthwashes. Aust Dent J. 2008 Dec;53(4):302-5.

La Vecchia C. Mouthwash and oral cancer risk: an update. Oral Oncol. 2009 Mar;45(3):198-200.

Pontefract H, Hughes J, Kemp K, Yates R, Newcombe RG, Addy M. The erosive effects of some mouthrinses on enamel. A study in situ. Clin Periodontol. 2001 Apr;28(4):319-24.

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