Girl swishing with Schmidt's Tea Tree+Ginger Mouthwash

Photo courtesy of Schmidt’s

I stopped using mouthwash more than a decade ago. Right around the same time I switched to non-toxic deodorant and beauty products, swapped chemical-laden cleaning supplies with natural, homemade alternatives, and ditched the processed sugars and flours in my diet for whole food options. Ever since, in my mind mouthwash has evoked a strong whiff of alcohol, Kool Aid-blue coloring, an overpowering minty taste, and an eye-watering stinging sensation. While I take my oral hygiene seriously, it’s not until very recently, when gentler, plant-derived mouthwashes entered the market, that I have been tempted to add one back into my dental routine. But, aside from freshness, what else can mouthwash achieve? Do we really need it? I asked my holistic dentist, Dr. Sarah Hubert of Williamsburg Dental Arts, for answers. 

What exactly does mouthwash do? 

If swished vigorously, mouthwash adds a mechanical cleansing action. It also provides a way to wash the entire oral cavity and treat the tissue with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, neutralizing ingredients. What mouthwash doesn’t do is thoroughly clean between teeth or under the gums. It definitely does not replace flossing, which some advertisements claim.

What should we be looking for when choosing a mouthwash? 

Assuming you are not trying to cure gingivitis, the best mouthwash is something that neutralizes acid. Most traditional oral care products on the market are acidic due to the preservatives that are added to sustain long shelf lives. Acidic conditions are primarily responsible for causing cavities and allowing gum disease or bad bacteria to grow. Healthy bacteria live in a neutral or slightly alkaline environment. Using a natural formulation, or even simply swishing with a little baking soda and water, will do your mouth wonders. 

What’s the most effective technique for using mouthwash?

If you are using a neutralizing or pH balancing mouthwash, I recommend using it before brushing. That way, your mouth is in a neutral pH, and an acidic environment won’t soften the enamel. Swish vigorously for about 30 seconds — really pushing the fluid around and through the teeth as much as possible.

Do you encourage oil pulling in your practice? 

I do recommend oil pulling with coconut oil, which has antifungal and antibacterial properties that reduce bad bacteria while maintaining good bacteria. I recommend using a small amount of oil and swishing for two, four or five minute intervals (using fresh oil for the second interval). If you use raw coconut oil, remember to spit it in the trashcan so it doesn’t clog your pipes. This is a safe method that can be used daily. 

Does everyone need to use mouthwash? 

A mouthwash that promotes the growth of good bacteria is recommended for maintenance. I only recommend other mouthwashes for specific problems. Most people focus on antibacterial remedies (which do have a place in treatment protocols) but too much can be a bad thing. If someone is suffering from gum disease or frequent cavities, antibacterial mouthwash will help treat the disease but should be used for only a certain time period. 

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.