Harvard Health Letter

A wash worth its while?

Freshens breath! Gives your mouth a tingling sensation! But what do mouthwashes really accomplish?

Late in 2010, the FDA warned three mouthwash manufacturers to stop suggesting that their products that have fluoride as the main active ingredient would prevent gum disease and remove dental plaque, the sticky biofilm of bacteria and other substances that collects on teeth above and below the gumline. And several years ago, a federal judge ordered Pfizer, which owned the Listerine brand at the time, to stop an ad campaign that said the iconic mouthwash was as effective as flossing for preventing tooth and gum decay.

The fact is that mouthwash plays a fairly minor role in the prevention of plaque and gum disease. Brushing and flossing are much more important. Some experts have even questioned whether mouthwash is much better than a breath mint as remedy for bad breath (halitosis).

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