Over-the-counter mouthwashes are sold in drugstores and come in various flavors and compositions. When a patient develops gum disease, however, a dentist will often prescribe a periodontal mouthwash to treat the symptoms. The solution helps to decrease bacteria below the gum line that cause gum inflammation, bleeding and swelling.
Periodontal mouthwashes do more than freshen one’s breath. People who have gum disease are at risk of losing their teeth because of uncontrolled bacteria. The bacteria thrive in pockets around the teeth and may even attack bones in the patient’s jaws. Untreated, gum disease also results in infections that can affect the heart and other vital organs. The main purpose of periodontal mouthwash is to control the infection that comes with gum disease and keep it from spreading.
Periodontal mouthwash requires a prescription, because it contains powerful anti-bacterial agents. People who need to use this type of mouthwash will often receive instructions from the pharmacist who fills the prescription. It is essential to follow the dentist’s instructions for using it, including the amount and daily frequency.
The components of a mouthwash for gum disease are different from those of regular mouthwash. While alcohol and water are the main ingredients in consumer mouthwashes, chlorhexidine gluconate is the main ingredient in mouthwashes prescribed for periodontal disease. This is an antimicrobial chemical that can reduce 97 percent oral bacteria when a patient uses it as directed for six months.
The most common periodontal formulations for gum disease also contain alcohol, water, glycerin and dye. Continued use usually results in staining of the teeth. Vigorously brushing is unlikely to remove the dye stains, and it often is necessary to have a dental hygienist remove them after finishing the treatment.
A prescription mouthwash is safe for its intended purpose. Sharing it with household members who have not seen a dentist or received a prescription for it is not advisable. Animal testing has not shown any fetal harm from periodontal mouthwash, but data from human studies are limited. Nursing mothers should avoid periodontal mouthwashes, because there is no reliable data on whether the chemicals in them are excreted in breast milk.
The mechanism by which periodontal mouthwash works is safe for adults. Scientific studies have not produced data on the side effects of chlorohexidine gluconate on the developing oral tissues, bones and teeth of children under age 18. Children should not use this medication unless they are under medical supervision.