There are several different kinds of mouthwash used for the purposes of preventing cavities, preventing gum disease, killing germs, and finally treating diseases of the mouth, teeth, and gums. An antibiotic mouthwash is not the same thing as an antiseptic mouthwash, which is what most people buy over-the-counter to help prevent cavities and control bad breath. Instead, it is an oral solution that contains an antibiotic medication and is usually available only by prescription.
The most common active ingredient in antibiotic mouthwash is the drug chlorhexidine, a chemical antimicrobial typically used to treat gum disease. A dentist may prescribe a chlorhexidine gluconate oral rinse when signs of gum disease are present. These signs include inflammation, redness and bleeding of the gums. Other uses for antibiotic mouthwash include prevention of tooth decay and infection following oral surgery. This type of mouthwash may also be prescribed to treat ulcers or sores in the mouth.
In antiseptic mouthwash, the ingredients that do so are typically hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, and thymol and are not as strong as the class of medications contained in prescription antibiotic mouthwash. Even so, both mouthwashes have the same effect — killing germs on the surface of living tissue. Unlike a prescription oral antibiotic, which is ingested and works from inside the body, antibiotic mouthwashes are not designed to be swallowed and therefore work only from the surface of the tissue. Swallowing mouthwash is never recommended and can be toxic, especially to children.
In addition to antibiotic and antiseptic mouthwash, another type of mouthwash available by prescription is a type of anti-fungal rinse. Anti-fungal mouthwash may be prescribed to treat a persistent case of thrush, which can sometimes occur as the result of taking oral antibiotics. Always discuss any type of medication used or taken, including antibiotic mouthwash, with your doctor or dentist before he or she prescribes new medication. Read warning labels and follow directions for any prescription mouthwash. Talk to your doctor or dentist if you have concerns about potential side effects, including staining of the teeth, excess calculus formation, and temporary loss or change of taste.
There are many situations and conditions for which an antibiotic mouthwash may be prescribed, but for the prevention of gum disease, cavities, and bad breath, an antiseptic mouthwash along with regular brushing and flossing is sufficient for most people. Be cautious of accidental ingestion and never intentionally swallow mouthwash. Any time an intentional amount of mouthwash is ingested, especially in children, call poison control or a doctor immediately.