First published February 2009, updated November 2011
Like over usage of antibiotics, using some forms of mouthwash consistently could actually be detrimental to your dental health and the environment.
I was talking to my dentist about mouthwashes and he said they usually do not kill all the bacteria. The bacteria left behind can become resistant to a particular mouthwash; ultimately resulting in a colony of “superbugs” in your mouth.
Additionally, most mouthwashes have a high level of alcohol, which can present problems for people with alcoholism. Also, some mouthwashes actually stain your teeth if you use them too often; however dentists can usually recommend ones that won’t.
On the environmental side of things, some mouthwashes can contain nasty chemicals such as:
formaldehyde – toxic to aquatic organisms
sodium lauryl sulfate – toxic in aquatic environments
polysorbate – toxic to aquatic organisms
cetylpyridinium Chloride – toxic to aquatic organisms
benzalkonium chloride – highly toxic to aquatic life
.. notice a pattern?
What you don’t accidentally swallow, just winds up down the drain and from there into our waterways; many of which are becoming increasingly toxic soups.
There are some greener alternatives.
Bad breath is most often caused by an excess of bacteria in the mouth. An easy way to help control these bacteria aside from regular brushing and flossing is with a salt water mouth wash.
Add as much salt as you can to a glass of warm water (to the point where it will no longer dissolve), then gargle and swish around your mouth. Do this daily. This preparation is also particularly useful for infections of the mouth for short term relief.
I had a recurring infection under a molar which was extraordinarily painful and was going to require a root canal – pretty much immediately by the time I finally hauled my butt into the dentist. He said there was no guarantee the root canal would work, so I just got him to clean things up as best he could, then by gargling salt water a few times a day, the infection rapidly receded – without any antibiotics required.
It wasn’t a miracle cure by any means as I did have flare-ups, mostly due to me not keeping up the regime I think; but it certainly helped keep the infection at bay until I finally admitted to myself 5 years later it was time to get the darn thing yanked.
The other positive effect of using a salt water mouthwash is that it will also whiten your teeth to a degree, but don’t expect miracles if you’re a heavy smoker or coffee drinker.
If you’re looking for a mouthwash with a bit of flavor kick, you can also try these simple home made mint, lemon and tea tree mouthwash recipes.
Strong alcoholic beverages such as gin or vodka are also effective mouthwashes; but if you’re tempted to swallow, perhaps don’t drive afterwards – and there’s the additional problem of perhaps smelling like a distillery :).
There are non-alcohol based mouthwashes available commercially, but be sure to check the label for environmentally unfriendly and unhealthy chemicals. Often they’ll be as bad as their alcoholic counterparts – sometimes worse, as they’ll have different chemicals to take the place of alcohol.
Do remember that mouthwashes aren’t a substitute for brushing your teeth or regular dentist visits, just an extra line of defence.
Do you have tips or recipes for human and earth friendly mouthwash? Please add them below.