Does Antiseptic Mouthwash Replace Flossing?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2019
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An antiseptic mouthwash does not replace flossing and brushing, according to the American Dental Association. In fact, in most cases an antiseptic mouthwash is primarily cosmetic, unless it is prescribed by a dentist, meaning that the formula will be stronger and more effective. Mouthwashes and rinses can actually cover up smells which might indicate dental problems which need to be addressed. For this reason, dentists stress that regular dental care, including checkups, is very important.

In 2005, the company which makes Listerine® antiseptic mouthwash was specifically warned against using the phrase “as effective as flossing” in its advertisements. Flossing is a crucial element of dental care because it gets in between the teeth, removing embedded material and scouring away plaque. Flossing accesses places that a toothbrush cannot reach, and a fair amount of physical pressure is involved to make flossing effective. No mouthwash can mimic the action of flossing, despite advertising claims.


Because antiseptic mouthwash is swished around in the mouth, it cannot effectively remove plaque from the surface of the teeth. The mouthwash may kill bacteria, but only for a short period of time. Within a few hours, the natural flora of the mouth will have replenished itself, despite claims made by antiseptic mouthwash manufacturers. Brushing is also an important part of oral care, because it removes plaque from the surface of the teeth and can also be used to clean the tongue. Some antiseptic mouthwash may also lead to dry mouth, because of the high alcohol content of some mouthwash products.

When a dentist prescribes antiseptic mouthwash, it is usually to treat a specific condition, and the mouthwash is formulated to act over a period of time longer than a few hours. Even so, the patient is directed to use the mouthwash frequently, and is told to continue flossing and brushing. In most cases, an antiseptic mouthwash merely removes oral debris and a small amount of bacteria. The primary benefit appears to be the fresher scent and taste of the breath, but if a consumer has bad breath, it is an indicator of ill health which should be addressed by a dentist, not an over the counter antiseptic mouthwash.

An antiseptic mouthwash should not be used instead of flossing and brushing. In order to be most effective, a mouthwash can be used after the teeth have been brushed and flossed, making them as clean as possible. It should be swished in the mouth firmly for 30 seconds to one minute. All of these aspects of home dental care should also be supplemented by regular visits to a dentist for checkups and professional tooth cleaning.


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