Brush, floss, rinse… right? Many of us think of mouthwash as a part of our normal oral care routine that freshens your breath, but is it doing the opposite? Let’s investigate.
People use mouthwash for a few different reasons. One is very simple, to freshen their breath in between teeth brushing. Another is to reach areas underneath their gums that their toothbrush cannot reach. People with xerostomia (dry mouth) may use mouth rinses to soothe their dry tissues. Finally, sometimes people will use mouthwash to reduce how often they need to brush and floss.
Mouth rinses can freshen breath, but they don’t clean teeth. So, while it’s convenient to use mouthwash after a meal or coffee to freshen breath, it is not a substitute for brushing and flossing. However, be sure to avoid mouthwashes with alcohol. While many may enjoy the icy cool feeling of mouthwashes with mint and alcohol, it can dry out the mouth and this can lead to bad breath which is the opposite of what we’re going for here! Mouthwashes can reach areas underneath the gums toothbrushes cannot so they can help remove any plaque or food lodged underneath tissues or teeth. This can help prevent any gum irritation, especially if one has crowns or bridges which tend to be major food/ plaque traps. This is also a great option for someone with limited dexterity. As far as xerostomia (dry mouth) goes, mouthwashes can be soothing to dry tissues, but they must be alcohol free. If not, the alcohol in the mouthwash will exacerbate xerostomia, and this can be both uncomfortable for the patient as well as dangerous. Xerostomia significantly increases a patient’s risk for cavities as they have no salivary flow to cleanse the teeth throughout the day 
This is the big question, and the answer is… no. While mouthwashes can freshen breath, refresh dry tissues, and help sweep away plaque or food debris, it does not actually clean the teeth . Plaque is sticky, harbors plaque and bacteria, and when left undisturbed, can result in the formation of calculus or cavities. Swishing, no matter how vigorous, is not enough to disrupt this bacterium. The only way to accomplish this is brushing and using floss or another interdental aid. While mouthwashes are a great way to refresh the breath throughout the day, they do not clean the teeth. Also, if bad breath is due to an underlying issue like periodontal disease or a tooth infection, the mouthwash is a temporary solution and will only freshen breath momentarily. Avoid mouthwashes with alcohol as they can be drying to the gums and remember mouthwash is an addition to brushing and flossing, not a substitute!