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Mouthwash: The Good & The Bad

Posted by on January 20, 2017 in Oral Health | Comments Off on Mouthwash: The Good & The Bad

Discover Magazine released an intriguing article a few years back about the great benefits of mouth wash. According to researchers, Streptococcus mutans is the bacterial culprit when it comes to our cavities. But during a small clinical study, they found that mouthwash was able to pretty much wipe this bacteria away so that healthy bacteria could take its place and thrive. This study was very small, so 0f course, further research will be needed before we know exactly how long these kinds of results last.

But mouthwash’s benefits don’t seem to stop there. According to a recent article at, there have actually been studies testing the effect of mouthwash on sexually-transmitted infections:

Can Listerine prevent STIs? Researchers want to find out

Rinsing with the antiseptic mouthwash Listerine for one minute can significantly reduce the prevalence of gonorrhea-causing bacteria, according to a new study. Now, researchers want to know whether Listerine can also help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).


“If Listerine has an inhibitory effect against N. gonorrhoeae in the pharynx, it could be a cheap, easy to use, and potentially effective intervention for gonorrhea prevention and control,” wrote the authors, led by Eric Chow, MPH, PhD. Chow is a senior research fellow at the Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic . . .


In addition to their clinical trial, the researchers performed an in vitro study in which they tested the effect of Cool Mint Listerine and Total Care Listerine on N. gonorrhoeaecolonies. They also found that both types of Listerine significantly slowed bacterial growth after just one minute.


“The two studies presented here are the first to demonstrate Listerine can inhibit the growth of N. gonorrhoeae in vitro and in a clinical study and raise the potential that it may be useful as a control measure,” Chow and colleagues wrote.

While people may use mouthwash for small things–like bad breath or whitening–it’s pretty cool that an inexpensive over-the-counter product has the possibility of reducing cavity- and STI-causing bacteria.

Despite these benefits, you may be surprised to hear that there are detractors. In fact, one of these opponents is actually a dentist (Dr. Alvin Danenberg):

Yes, I tell them antibacterial mouthwash kills bacteria. Yes, bacteria can cause gum disease. Yes, you should want healthy gums.


But you know that bacteria serve many purposes in the mouth, when the good bacteria balance out the bad kinds. Healthy gums are dependent on a healthy balance of bacteria. One underrated bacterial benefit is to allow a specific pathway of digestion to occur that is critical for health.

Mouth bacteria

When bacteria are killed indiscriminately, both harmful and good bacteria are killed, and the mouth’s delicate balance of bacteria goes awry. This means that tooth decay and gum disease may be more likely to occur.


To address their concerns, I talk with my patients about the benefits of mouth bacteria and the unique role they play in the chemical pathway of certain foods. Specifically, the chemical pathway of “nitrate-to-nitrite-to-nitric oxide” is dependent on specific anaerobic bacteria in the mouth . . .


So I tell my patients, if you kill the bacteria in your mouth and on your tongue with antiseptic mouthwash, salivary nitrates wouldn’t be converted into nitrites. With less nitrites in your system, you would produce less beneficial nitric oxide.

While mouthwash does have benefits, Dr. Danenberg does make some sound points. After all, whenever you take an antibiotic, your doctor will usually tell you to take a probiotic so your gut flora isn’t unbalanced. If mouthwash is able to kill good bacteria, what’s stopping bad bacteria from thriving again?

If you aren’t sure how often you should use mouthwash, it’s just best to ask your dentist at your next dental cleaning. He or she may say it’s okay, or you may be offered alternatives. Take a look at

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