Over the years, a number of patients have asked me about what mouthwash they should use. It turns out there is no easy answer to that question. Listerine is a great example of a product with quite a history. It was first invented in 1895. It was sold as a floor cleaner before catching on as a cure for bad breath around 1915. In the 1920’s Listerine’s marketing campaign involved a series of young men and women turned off from marriage by a potential spouse’s bad breath (Levitt and Dubner 2009). Impressively, the company continues to reinvent itself, now offering a range of products for mouth whitening and rinsing.
While the American Dental Association suggests that a regular practice of brushing and flossing is in most cases sufficient, the association has also granted its seal of approval to a number of mouthwashes that do not contain alcohol. There is some controversy around the use of alcohol in mouthwash. Some have argued that regular use of alcohol mouthwashes can increase the risk of oral cancer. There is considerable debate on this point.
Of course, speaking personally, I have to say I use a mouthwash because it is a really enjoyable part of my personal oral hygiene practice. I like the way it feels. This aside, there is also some evidence that the anti-septic qualities of mouthwash can kill the bacteria that cause gingivitis and bad breath.
There is a range of choices when it comes to a mouthwash, including a number of homemade and herbal recipes. Rather than vouch for a single approach here, I want to suggest everyone’s health regimen is dependent upon his or her personal genetics, lifestyles, and life goals. This means the best service I can offer when asked about mouthwash, is to present the best information on the various options available, so you can consider all the various ways you might further enhance your overall health and vibrance.
Hippocrates recommended a mixture of salt, alum, and vinegar (Fischman 1997). I’ve been told of an Ayurveydic practice that involves an oil cleanse, where they use sesame oil and swish for up to twenty minutes. It is said to pull toxins from the gums. Again, I’m not validating these claims, but it is darn interesting. I wonder what the herbal plants would be where my dental practice is located, in Palm Harbor, Florida.
There was a time before the toothbrush, and in some places in the world there is still no toothbrush. In that time and in these places people chew on a range of sticks. Chewing sticks, including the use of leaves, are in some places made of guava, pomegranate, holy basil, green tea, cranberry, and sometimes include bee propolis (Kukreja and Dodwad 2012).
I’m glad my patients have toothbrushes, but I have to admit, that pomegranate stick sounds pretty good! I certainly enjoy working with my patients to discover an oral health regimen that is satisfying and healthy.
Paul L. Caputo, DDS3490 E Lake Rd S Suite A