The 10 Best Mouthwashes


Even if you brush, floss, and get dental cleanings regularly, sometimes your oral health needs a little extra help. The best mouthwash kills the bacteria in your mouth that can cause bad breath and contribute to cavities and gum disease. When used alongside healthy brushing habits, mouthwash can help improve all three for people with a higher risk of these problems, explains Scott Cardall, DMD, a Harvard-trained orthodontist and founder of Orem Orthodontics in Utah.

But which mouthwash will actually help is another story. We spoke with two dentists, Dr. Cardall and New York-based periodontist Navid Rahmani, DDS, New York-based periodontist and founder of Manhattan Periodontics in New York City, to understand how to most effectively use mouthwash (and who really needs it), as well as how to select one with the right ingredients to help you reach your dental hygiene goals. Based on their feedback, we rigorously researched products from the top brands. We also had an orthodontist on our Medical Expert Board review this article for medical and scientific accuracy.

Fresh Breath Oral Rinse Mild Flavor (Packaging May Vary)

Walgreens


The best mouthwash depends on your goal, Dr. Cardall says, but TheraBreath Fresh Breath Oral Rinse covers all the bases. Its main ingredients are sodium hydroxide, which helps maintain the pH balance in your mouth, and peppermint oil which naturally combats bad breath very effectively and kills bacteria to help control plaque and gingivitis. 

It’s also free of alcohol, so it won’t cause any burning sensation, and free of allergens like benzalkonium chloride. We also love that the minty flavor is mild and doesn’t leave a strong aftertaste despite being strong enough to nix bad breath.

The company was founded by a dentist, and this TheraBreath formula has the ADA Seal of Acceptance to stand behind its efficacy and quality.

Product Details:

  • Key ingredients: Sodium hydroxide, peppermint oil
  • Flavor: Mint 
  • Size: 16 oz

Colgate Total 12 Protection Alcohol-Free Mouthwash

Amazon


Bad breath is the number one reason for the average person to use mouthwash, both our experts agree. Bad breath—called halitosis—is caused by odor-causing bacteria in your mouth.

Colgate Total contains cetylpyridinium chloride, which is an antimicrobial so it kills that bacteria. What’s more, the protection lasts for 12 hours, so it stays effective even after you eat or drink.

Additionally, it’s alcohol-free, so its bright peppermint flavor refreshes your mouth without burning or stinging. 

It’s also worth mentioning that while a mouthwash can help bad breath in the moment, the best way to fix chronic bad breath is to get regular dental cleanings and brush and floss regularly, Dr. Cardall says.

Product Details:

  • Key ingredients: Cetylpyridinium Chloride
  • Flavor: Mint
  • Size: 33.8 fl oz 

Nature's Answer PerioBrite Natural Mouthwash, Wintermint

Amazon


If you’re looking for the power of plant medicine, Nature’s Answer PerioBrite is formulated by a dentist and utilizes Echinacea purpurea and Centella asiatica, two natural ingredients that Dr. Rahmani says help to reduce gingivitis and aid in gum repair. This all-natural mouthwash also contains wintergreen oil and peppermint oil to freshen bad breath, and the flavor is bright but not overwhelming.

This formula is free of alcohol and any additives, and contains a whole slew of other herbs and oils known to help cleans the mouth. Nature’s Answer uses a unique, proprietary process of cold extraction to capture the plants raw power without heating and destroying it.

Product Details:

  • Key ingredients: Glycerin, methyl salicylate, xylitol, Bio-Saponins
  • Flavor: Wintermint
  • Size: 16 oz

Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse

Amazon


People who have dry mouth—whether naturally or due to something like medication or an autoimmune disease—secrete less saliva, which can lead to more cavities since saliva has natural antibodies to fight cavities and bacteria that causes gum disease, Dr. Rahmani explains.

Dr. Cardall likes Biotene for this, since its main ingredients are water and glycerin, a compound used to retain moisture. “Biotene also lacks a lot of the chemicals standardly found in rinses that can occasionally cause irritation, including alcohol, which can also be drying so isn’t helpful for those experiencing dry mouth,” he adds.

Biotene has a nice mouth-feel thanks to the glycerin, and leaves your mouth feeling minty fresh instead of chemically like a lot of other mouthwashes designed for this issue. It contains xylitol, which is a natural sweetener that helps to prevent cavities, according to Dr. Cardall.

If you have dry mouth, you should also use a toothpaste with fluoride to prevent cavities, and make sure you wait after brushing to use mouthwash so you don’t rinse the fluoride away, Dr. Rahmani advises.

Product Details:

  • Key ingredients: Glycerin, xylitol
  • Flavor: Mint
  • Size: 33.8 fl oz

ACT Restoring Zero Alcohol Fluoride Mouthwash

Amazon


Mouthwash can’t prevent cavities—only proper brushing and a healthy diet can do that, both our experts point out. But using a mouthwash with fluoride can help remineralize the teeth and to strengthen the enamel, making your teeth more resistant to the bacteria and acid that cause cavities and other tooth decay.

Let’s be clear: Most people get enough fluoride from their drinking water and toothpaste. But if you have dry mouth or frequent cavities, using a fluoridated mouthwash can help, Dr. Rahmani says.

We like ACT Restoring Mouthwash because it uses sodium fluoride to help remineralize your teeth. It’s also free of alcohol, which not only burns but also can further dry out your mouth, exacerbating cavity issues. 

This mouthwash comes in a refreshing minty flavor, and at an affordable price.

Product Details:

  • Key ingredients: Sodium Fluoride
  • Flavor: Mint
  • Size: 33.8 fl oz

Listerine Total Care Anticavity Flouride Mouthwash

Walmart


Listerine Total Care uses antibacterial essential oils, namely eucalyptol, and a 2018 study analysis out of Saudi Arabia (not funded by the brand) found that Listerine’s essential oil formulas were effective at reducing plaque and gingivitis when used alongside daily tooth brushing and regular cleanings.

Listerine Total Care uses the brand’s blend of essential oils, namely eucalyptol and menthol, which both work as antifungal ingredients to limit bacterial growth; Listerine’s blend of essential oils were the subject of a study in The Saudi Dental Journal, which showed the formula was effective at reducing plaque and gingivitis when part of a regular dental routine. 

This mouthwash uses the essential oils as active ingredients in tandem with fluoride and alcohol to keep plaque, especially above the gumline, at bay. “Anti-plaque mouthwash can help reduce gingivitis by not allowing plaque to colonize and mature,” Dr. Rahmani explains. 

Product Details:

  • Key ingredients: Eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, thymol
  • Flavor: Mint
  • Size: 33 fl oz

Listerine Freshburst

Amazon


People who have a history of their dentist reporting inflamed and puffy gums or bone loss are at higher risk for developing gingivitis and periodontitis, Dr. Cardall explains. For this, a rinse like Listerine can help on top of regular brushing and flossing. 

Listerine is clinically proven to kill the bacteria that causes gingivitis and periodontitis (though it won’t help with cavity prevention, Dr. Cardall points out). Listerine Freshburst uses different alcohols and four essential oils to kill gingivitis-causing germs. 

This mouthwash has the ADA Seal of Acceptance to stand behind its effectiveness and safety. Because it contains alcohol, it does burn slightly, and the Freshburst minty flavor is on the stronger side. But the alcohol and bright mint are also great for freshening breath, allowing this mouthwash to do double duty.

Product Details:

  • Key ingredients: Eucalyptol, Menthol, Methyl Salicylate, Thymol, Alcohol
  • Flavor: Spearmint
  • Size: 16.9 fl oz

CloSYS Sensitive Antimicrobial Mouthwash

Amazon


If you have a sensitive mouth, it can be hard to garner the benefits of a mouthwash among the price of a painful rinse. CloSYS Sensitive Mouthwash is formulated to reduce bad breath, while being non-burning and exceptionally gentle. 

It’s free of some of the ingredients commonly found in mouthwash, including alcohol, triclosan, and sulfate, but still carries the ADA Seal of Acceptance. CloSYS Sensitive Mouthwash has a gentle mint flavor to help your mouth feel refreshed and is also available in an unflavored version.

The only real downside to this mouthwash is users report a slight chlorine or chemical smell to the rinse, which makes sense considering the active ingredient is chlorine dioxide. Chlorine dioxide is a disinfectant that is often used to clean drinking water. It’s safe for consumption is small doses, but may have a slight chemical smell. However, it’s the smell is not offensive and doesn’t come through on the flavor.

Product Details:

  • Key ingredients: Chlorine dioxide, trisodium phosphate
  • Flavor: Mint
  • Size: 32 fl oz

Crest Scope Get Fresh Mouthwash

Amazon


Scope is a heritage brand that both dentists and people have trusted for years. Scope Get Fresh is our top pick from the brand’s lineup because it’s effective against odor- and plaque-causing bacteria. Its main ingredients cetylpyridinium chloride and alcohol help to prevent plaque from appearing and stop the growth of bad breath-causing bacteria that’s already present.

The minty fresh flavor here will leave your mouth feeling and tasting refreshing, although that does come with a bit of a bite thanks to the alcohol. Available on most store shelves, this mouthwash is also a super affordable addition to a regular dental routine.

Product Details:

  • Key ingredients: Cetylpyridinium chloride, alcohol
  • Flavor: Mint
  • Size: 33 fl oz

Listerine Original

Amazon


While generic versions of the product have almost the same efficacy, Listerine is a popular and widely-available brand name that dentists know prevents gum disease, says Dr. Cardall.

Dr. Cardall explains that Listerine Original uses four different alcohols, which work to kill the bacteria that causes gum disease and bad breath for up to 24 hours. Those looking for fluoride should note that this version of Listerine doesn’t contain fluoride, which helps to prevent cavities.

We consider the Original the best Listerine because in addition to having everything to improve your oral health, it also boasts the ADA Seal of Acceptance, which not all Listerine formulas do. 

Product Details:

  • Key ingredients: Alcohol, Menthol
  • Flavor: Original
  • Size: 33 fl oz

How We Selected

We selected the best mouthwashes based first and foremost on insight from two dental experts on what a healthy mouthwash should and shouldn’t contain:

  • Scott Cardall, DMD, a Harvard-trained orthodontist and founder of Orem Orthodontics in Utah
  • Navid Rahmani, DDS, New York-based periodontist and founder of Manhattan Periodontics in Midtown

Then, we narrowed down the top selections to these best picks based on criteria of what makes up the best mouthwash and reviews of which are worth the money.

Ingredients to Look For & What to Avoid

What to look for in a mouthwash depends on what specific issue you’re hoping to tackle. While people with healthy mouths are fine to use most types of mouthwash, those with other dental conditions should look for certain ingredients.

  • Fluoride: If you’re prone to cavities, look for fluoride, which helps to remineralize your teeth and make them stronger against bacteria.
  • Glycerin: If you’re prone to dry mouth, look for a mouthwash with glycerin, which will help add moisture to your mouth. Fluoride also helps to prevent cavities, which folks with dry mouth are more prone to see when saliva isn’t present to wash away bacteria, plaque, and tartar.
  • Peridontitis-fighting ingredients: If you need help controlling plaque and gingivitis, look for any ingredient that kills periodontitis-causing bacteria. This can include alcohol, chlorhexidine, or certain essential oils.
  • All-natural ingredients: If you’re looking to stay all-natural, look for Sambucus nigra, Echinacea purpurea, and Hydrocotyle asiatica (aka Centella asiatica), all of which “are plant based and help reduce gingivitis and help gum repair,” Dr. Rahmani says.
  • Whitening ingredients: If you want whiter teeth, try adding a whitening toothpaste to your regular regimen. Studies have shown that whitening mouthwashes are not only not effective on changing tooth color, but they are also potentially erosive to your enamel with their low pH.

Ingredients you may want to avoid include:

  • Alcohol: If you have dry mouth, are prone to cavities, or are elderly, skip alcohol as it usually dries your mouth out further and exacerbates bacteria issues, Dr. Rahmani advises. It’s not harmful to most other people, says Dr. Cardall, but it can cause an unpleasant burning sensation, so it’s mostly a personal choice to skip this ingredient or not. If you’ve ever felt a slight burning sensation with your mouthwash, that’s probably because it contains alcohol. Alcohol is key in many mouthwash formulas thanks to its natural ability to kill bacteria that causes bad breath and gingivitis. That being said, you can definitely find mouthwashes that are alcohol-free and therefore don’t burn when you use them.
  • Additional fluoride: Because most toothpastes and drinking water are both fluoridated, you’re likely already seeing the benefits of that ingredient without needing to add an extra dose to your dental routine. Dr. Rahmani explains that if you don’t have dry mouth or frequent cavities, you don’t need to look for fluoride on your mouthwash’s ingredients list.

A note about hydrogen peroxide

Never use straight hydrogen peroxide as mouthwash. It’s present in some products, but that’s when it’s diluted with other ingredients and lots of water. Moreover,  it may not even be the most effective mouthwash ingredient, Dr. Cardall points out.

What Does the ADA Seal Mean?

A seal from the American Dental Association means that a product has been proven effective in lab studies or other research submitted to the ADA.  While there are other effective mouthwashes that don’t have the ADA Seal, they aren’t always backed by the same level of research as products vetted by the ADA. The ADA seal requires only a 15% level of improvement for a product to obtain it.

How to Use Mouthwash (and Who Really Needs It)

For those who are healthy (brush their teeth twice a day and floss regularly), the only benefit of mouthwash is that it will freshen your breath, Dr. Rahmani explains. However, mouthwashes can have real value for those looking to attack a certain oral health care problem, says Dr. Cardall. In other words: Mouthwash is generally less important than brushing and flossing, but it’s a nice add-on to tackle specific predispositions in an otherwise healthy routine.

Generally, you can use a mouthwash twice a day. Swish the recommended amount in your mouth for a full 30 seconds, gargle, then spit. Do not rinse with water—this prevents ingredients like fluoride from effectively protecting your teeth from cavities. You can use mouthwash either before or after brushing—both are effective, according to the American Dental Association, though you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions to see the maximum benefit.

If you’re prone to cavities and not using a mouthwash with fluoride, Dr. Rahmani says you shoudl swish before brushing; using one after will rinse away the crucial, cavity-preventing fluoride of your toothpaste.

If you have dry mouth, are predisposed to gum disease or to cavities, the right mouthwash can help. It’s also worth noting that kids younger than 6 years old shouldn’t use mouthwash unless instructed by their dentist.

Who We Are

Rachael Schultz has been a health and wellness writer for nearly a decade and specializes in translating scientific research and expert insight into digestible, usable everyday information. She has been a gear editor for five years and has extensive knowledge discerning what differentiates a high-quality, reliable product that will not only support the buyer’s needs but is also worth your money.



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