Flossing can be a tedious and repetitive task, and someone somewhere must have come up with a decent alternative for it… right? How about antiseptic mouthwash – that should be enough for someone to replace flossing with, right?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. “But I just went to the dentist and he gave me a cup with of this stuff! That means it must be good, right?” You’re forgetting that one of the dentist’s assistants probably helped you floss earlier, and the stuff at the dentist’s office is more potent than what you can buy from the stores.
Antiseptic mouthwash is something that is not a good alternative to flossing, and this statement is something the American Dental Association (ADA) stands behind. In fact, most mouthwashes that you buy from your local supermarket are primarily for cosmetic purposes, not for actual dental care.
In fact, mouthwashes may even be detrimental because it can mask smells that could be precursors to medical problems that should be addressed as quickly as possible. Thus, dentists strongly suggest that regular checkups be done, and you shouldn’t be missing those appointments.
Furthermore, in 2005 the parent company of Listerine antiseptic mouthwash was warned not to market their product using the tagline “as effective as flossing” because it simply isn’t true. Whether you like it or not, flossing is an important part of dental care.
Using floss, one can reach the tight spaces between teeth and remove any stuck food particles and scrape away plaque. Dental floss can reach areas that the bristles on a toothbrush cannot. There is no way that antiseptic mouthwash can mimic the flossing action and effectiveness, and any marketing ploy that says otherwise is wrong and malicious.
Since mouthwash is swished around one’s mouth, it cannot properly remove plaque from the tooth’s surface. Next, it is possible that the mouthwash kills some bacteria, but it is temporary. In just a few hours’ time, the bacteria would have replenished itself.
On the other hand, something like brushing is quite useful since it can scrape off plaque from the surface and one can brush their tongue, which is a major source of bacteria. Additionally, antiseptic mouthwash can, due to its large amounts of alcohol content (the kind you don’t drink), cause dry mouth which can lead to bad breath (among other things).
If your dentist specifically prescribes an antiseptic mouthwash for you, it is typically to treat a unique condition, and the mouthwash is likely to be formulated to work over a longer period of time. With that said, the dentist still recommends the patient continue flossing and brushing like normal.
In the majority of the situations, mouthwash just gets rid of some food debris and minimal bacteria. The main benefit, it would seem, is the fresh scent that lingers in one’s mouth for a brief time after using it. However, if someone has bad breath and is simply trying to mask it, the underlying condition will still be present.
To conclude, one should NOT use antiseptic mouthwash as a replacement for flossing. The proper way of using mouthwash is to combine it with brushing and flossing for the best possible clean. One needs to swish it in their mouth for at least 30 seconds, a minute is even better, before spitting it out.
Lastly, regular visits to your dentist is still necessary because you may have missed a few things yourself.
For those who want a true alternative to flossing (at least, flossing with string), then take a look at water flossing.