While you can't rely solely on mouthwash to keep your teeth clean — brushing and flossing are vital for oral health — it's a good way to provide some extra protection against cavities and gum disease. Mouthwash kills disease-causing bacteria in your mouth, and it can kill bacteria in places that can't be reached by a toothbrush or dental floss.
Over-the-counter mouthwash is suitable for general oral health, but you may need to request prescription mouthwash from your dentist if you start to notice signs of gum disease. Prescription mouthwash is stronger, and it does a better job of destroying bacteria. To learn more about what's in prescription mouthwash and when you should consider asking your dentist for some, read on.
What Does Prescription Mouthwash Contain?
Prescription mouthwash contains chlorhexidine gluconate, which is a very strong antimicrobial agent. It kills all types of bacteria on contact by destroying their cell walls. Prescription mouthwash containing chlorhexidine gluconate is stronger than the mouthwash you can buy over the counter since it keeps working for quite a bit longer than alternative mouthwashes.
Mouthwashes containing alcohol, for example, will also kill bacteria on contact. However, the alcohol evaporates and stops being effective shortly after you use the mouthwash. Once the alcohol evaporates, bacteria introduced into your mouth from the food you eat or liquid you drink will be able to grow in your mouth again. Chlorhexidine gluconate remains in your mouth for several hours after you use it, so it keeps your mouth free from bacteria for much longer compared to over-the-counter mouthwashes.
Why Is Prescription Mouthwash Not Available Over the Counter?
The main reason why chlorhexidine gluconate mouthwash isn't available over the counter is that it has some side effects. Chlorhexidine gluconate mouthwash can stain your teeth brown, and you can't remove the discoloration by brushing. The brown discoloration can only be completely removed with a dental cleaning. In addition, chlorhexidine gluconate can also impart a bitter, metallic taste to the foods that you eat. While the side effects aren't dangerous, they can be quite annoying. However, the bacteria-killing power of chlorhexidine gluconate mouthwash often makes up for the unwanted side effects.
When Should You Ask Your Dentist for Prescription Mouthwash?
Chlorhexidine gluconate mouthwash is most often used to treat gingivitis, so you should schedule an appointment and talk to your dentist if you notice any of the warning signs of gum disease. If your gums appear red and inflamed, if you have persistent bad breath or if your gums bleed frequently after brushing or flossing, you may be developing gingivitis.
If you have any of these symptoms, it's a good idea to have your gums checked by a dentist and receive a prescription for chlorhexidine mouthwash in order to kill the bacteria that are causing your gingivitis. Keeping your mouth free from bacteria gives your gums a chance to heal.
Chlorhexidine mouthwash is usually used for a period of two weeks since this limits the risk of brown stains forming on your teeth. After using your prescription mouthwash, your dentist will examine your gums to make sure that your gingivitis has been treated successfully. Gingivitis can eventually progress to periodontitis, which is a more serious form of gum disease that can cause tooth loss. If you have signs of gum disease, schedule an appointment with a dentist as soon as possible so you can begin treatment.