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Does mouthwash eliminate a bad oral odor?

Bad breath, also called halitosis, is often the result of poor oral hygiene. Without regular cleaning, food particles and bacteria can accumulate around your teeth, tongue, and gums. Once this debris begins to rot, it gives off an unpleasant smell whenever you speak or exhale.

Fortunately, maintaining a healthy oral-hygiene routine is a simple but effective way of combating the effects of bad breath. Brushing your teeth, tongue, and gums with fluoride toothpaste after every meal or snack and flossing daily are two important habits to prevent bad breath. In addition, many people can benefit from using a mouthwash daily. Antibacterial mouthwashes are designed to kill microorganisms and to neutralize any chemicals in the mouth that may lead to bad breath.

Chemicals in mouthwash include chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium chloride, chlorine dioxide, zinc chloride, and triclosan. These can be placed into four general groups: antimicrobial agents kill and limit the growth of bacteria; fluoride reduces tooth decay and strengthens tooth enamel; astringent salts act as temporary deodorizers; and odor neutralizers can chemically inactivate odor-causing compounds.

Some people dislike using a chlorhexidine-based mouthwash for an extended period of time because of its unpleasant taste, burning sensation when used too often, and temporarily darkening effects on the teeth and tongue. Additionally, many mouthwashes also include alcohol as an active ingredient. Some individuals are reluctant to use alcohol-based mouthwashes because of concern that long-term use may increase the risk of oral cancer, although this correlation has not been clinically verified. Studies have demonstrated, however, that use an antibacterial mouthwash as directed and as part of a healthy oral-hygiene routine of brushing and flossing can be effective in combating bad breath. Your dentist can advise you about whether using a mouthwash is suitable for your oral-health needs. He or she may recommend that you use a mouthwash with fluoride or antimicrobial agents as part of your daily oral-hygiene routine.

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