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Dental Hygiene: Can Mouthwash Backfire On You?

by Joe Bulger DDS

In my last post, I talked about Mouthwash and the Oral-Throat Cancer Link. I mentioned how the loss of your mucous shield makes you more vulnerable to cancer-causing agents.

What Cancer-Causing Agents?

Can mouthwash backfire and cause problems?

Your mouth is exposed to many different substances through food and beverages. Some of these can be harmful.

Cigarette smoke is an obvious risk factor for cancer. Add the fact that a smoker using mouthwash to cover up breath issues is practically automatic these days, and you’ve got the potential for a deadly combination.

Other causative agents may originate from the bacteria already in your mouth.

Here’s the thing. Your mouth is full of bacteria – mostly good bugs which hold the bad bugs in check. Zapping you mouth with an alcohol-based mouthwash may be exactly the opportunity the bad bugs need to gain the upper hand.

The bad news is those bad bugs tend to live underneath your gumline, where the alcohol rinse won’t easily reach. That means a mouthwash mostly kills off the good bugs and creates an open invitation for the bad ones to grow without restraint.

Put it this way, eliminating mass numbers of bacteria in your mouth with an alcohol-based rinse is like taking a flamethrower to your garden to eliminate the weeds. What grows back can be an even bigger problem.

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How Mouthwash Can Hurt You

You’re caught in a vicious mouthwash cycle that harms your oral health and can potentially threaten your life.

Bacterial infection of your gums can occur AFTER rinsing with a mouthwash. The “Rebound Effect” is about those nasty bugs growing back quickly and invading your gums.

Here’s how it happens… Once your mucous shield is stripped away, remaining bacteria can more easily penetrate your exposed tissues. That means the bugs that survive the mouthwash assault are able to invade with ferocity since your defenses are now stripped away.

With loss of saliva, you also lose the buffering capacity to limit damage caused by harsh chemicals. Damage to your teeth from sugar and dietary acids can accelerate the damage.

At your dental hygiene visit we would see red swollen gums that bleed easily, and lingering breath odor.

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Drawbacks to Losing Your Mucous Shield:

Here’s your wake up call regarding alcohol-based mouthwash and how it can backfire.

  1. Your mouth is dessicated (dried out) and feels uncomfortably dry.
  2. Your teeth stain far more easily from liquids such as tea, coffee and red wine.
  3. Exposed root surfaces become more sensitive, especially to cold air or water.
  4. Your teeth soften and become more prone to decay.
  5. Your teeth become more susceptible to acid damage from any dietary acid.
  6. Your teeth tend to  build up more bacterial plaque.
  7. You may develop Burning Mouth Syndrome.
  8. Your breath turns foul more quickly.

Here’s the kicker, the dryness of your mouth and Rebound Effect means you’ll soon have MORE of a bad breath issue. Thirty minutes after the mouthwash your breath is worse than ever.

That means you’ll be reaching for another swig of that mouthwash and your chances of recovering your mucous shield are further compromised. You’re caught in a vicious mouthwash cycle that harms your oral health and can potentially threaten your life.

That’s how your mouthwash can backfire on you.

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Fresh Breath Recovery with Dental Hygiene

Sugar-free gum is a terrific alternative to alcohol-based mouthwash.

One of the priorities of our hygiene team is to help people establish healthy habits to ensure they can continue enjoying a healthy beautiful smile.

Advice on fresh breath products is part of the guidance we offer. We help you achieve sustainable health.

If you want fresh breath (and who doesn’t?), you’ll need saliva stimulation and support, NOT something that will cause saliva suppression. If you want to rinse with something, use water or a mouthwash without the backfire like Biotene.

You want to be supporting your saliva instead of inhibiting it.

Sugar-free gum is another terrific alternative to alcohol-based mouthwash. Gum chewing stimulates your saliva production to naturally cleanse your mouth and freshen your breath.

One of the keys to helping people recover from chronic bad breath is to IMMEDIATELY get them off any alcohol-based mouthwash. Once they can recover a protective mucous shield, they’re on their way to fresh breath as well as lowering their risk of oral cancer and throat cancer.

If you would like to know more about how mouthwash can backfire, ask your dental hygienist. If they don’t have a clue as to what you’re talking about, perhaps it’s time to find a new dental hygienist.

Signature for a Toronto Cosmetic Dentist.

Dr. Joe :)


Dr. Joe Bulger

About the Author: is a West Toronto dentist. He’s also the owner-founder of Royal York Dental – a respected dental clinic serving Etobicoke since 1950.

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