Treating bad breath using mouthwash.

- Some types of oral rinses, when used together with effective mouth cleansing, can play a role in treating halitosis. You cannot, however, expect that just using one alone will be an effective cure by itself.

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Link to types of oral rinses.
Link to how to use mouth rinse.

What type of mouthwash should you choose?

When it comes to treating bad breath, the effectiveness of an oral rinse will depend on how well it can fulfill one or both of the following characteristics.

A) Antibacterial rinses.

If a mouthwash has antibacterial properties, using it can help to reduce the total number of anaerobic bacteria that live in your mouth. (They're the kind that create the stinky byproducts that cause bad breath.)

B) Rinses that neutralize volatile sulfur compounds.

Some types of mouthwash have the ability to neutralize volatile sulfur compounds (VSC's) and/or the compounds from which they are formed. VSC's are the smelly compounds whose odor actually causes halitosis.

Types of mouthwashes that can help to control bad breath -

A bottle of mouthwash.

Mouthwash alone usually isn't a cure for halitosis.

A) Rinses that contain chlorine dioxide (or sodium chlorite).

Properties: Antibacterial  /  Neutralizes Volatile Sulfur Compounds

Mouthwashes that contain chlorine dioxide, or its parent compound sodium chlorite, can be useful in treating halitosis. Research suggests that its mode of action is twofold:

  • Chlorine dioxide acts as an oxidizing agent (it releases oxygen). Because most of the bacteria that cause bad breath are anaerobic (meaning, they prefer to live in areas devoid of oxygen), introducing oxygen into their environment can help to minimize their numbers.
  • Chlorine dioxide helps to neutralize volatile sulfur compounds. It also degrades the components that bacteria use to make VSC's.

B) Rinses that contain zinc.

Properties: Neutralizes Volatile Sulfur Compounds

Research suggests that oral rinses that contain zinc can reduce the level of volatile sulfur compounds found in a person's breath.

This action is presumed to be related to the fact that the zinc ions bind to the precursor compounds that anaerobic bacteria require to make VSC's.

C) "Antiseptic" type mouthwashes.

Properties: Antibacterial

"Antiseptic" mouthwash (Listerine® or a generic equivalent) is sometimes chosen for use in treating bad breath due to its antibacterial properties (ability to kill anaerobic oral bacteria).

However, some dentists don't feel that using this type of product makes the best choice because it typically contains a high level of alcohol (on the order of 25%).Since alcohol is a desiccant, it creates a drying effect on oral tissues and this may contribute to a person's breath problems. (Our discussion about xerostomia explains why.)

D) Rinses that contain cetlyperadium chloride.

Properties: Antibacterial

The compound cetylpyridinium chloride has antibacterial properties and therefore can help to control the number of anaerobic bacteria that are found in a person's mouth.

How to use mouthwash so you get the most benefit from it.

1) When should you rinse?

As a general rule, you'll get the most out of using an oral rinse if you use it after you have brushed and flossed your teeth and cleaned your tongue. Here's why.

  • It's difficult for rinses to penetrate oral films (plaque that has built up on and around a person's teeth, gums and tongue).
  • As a result, the bacteria (and their waste byproducts) situated in deep within it go largely unaffected.

By rinsing after you have cleaned your mouth, that plaque that still remains will at least have been disrupted and exposed. As a result, it will be more easily penetrated and therefore more vulnerable to the actions of the compounds found in the rinse you are using.

Halitosis is usually caused by plaque accumulation on the back part of the tongue.

Why you need to gargle as far back as possible.

2) Gargling.

When you use a rinse, it's best to gargle it.

When a person gargles, they should make an "aaahhh" sound. This extends their tongue outward and allows the mouthwash to contact a greater percentage of its posterior region (the area that usually harbors the greatest number of odor producing bacteria.

Note: All mouth rinses should be spit out after gargling. Children should not be given mouthwash because of the possibility that they may swallow it.

3) Swishing.

Besides just focusing on your tongue, you should also swish mouthwash around in your mouth (especially between your teeth) so it can have an affect on the bacterial components located there.

Using Breath mints / Lozenges / Chewing gum.

Using breath mints, lozenges, drops, sprays or chewing gum, on their own, are usually not an effective cure for bad breath.

However, when used in conjunction with tongue cleaning, tooth brushing and flossing, they can be valuable adjuncts. Especially if they contain compounds that have the ability to neutralize volatile sulfur compounds such as chlorine dioxide, sodium chlorite, and zinc (see above).

Other benefits.

As an added benefit, the use of mints, lozenges, and chewing gum will help to stimulate the flow of saliva. This action creates a cleansing and diluting effect both on oral bacteria and the halitosis-causing byproducts they create.

Our next page talks about cures for denture breath. Or jump ahead to our FYI page, just to make sure you didn't miss anything we covered.



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