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Mouthwash or Salt Water Rinse

Are there any long term side effects of rinsing the mouth with salt water?

“Does it weaken the tooth, or interfere with saliva secretion, or is it irreversibly abrasive to the taste buds?

How does a salt water rinse compare with dental mouthwashes?”

– Question from Stephanie in Chermside West, Brisbane

Dr David Kerr replies:

Salt water mouthwash rinses are an excellent short term treatment when you have wounds in the mouth, for instance, when you’ve had teeth removed.

The reason they are so good is that the salt is not only a natural disinfectant, but it also removes any swelling from the tissues. So using salt water for two or three weeks post surgery, or if you have an infection or a mouth ulcer, works really well as a short term measure.

How about using salt water long term?

Longer term, the salt water is acidic, so there would be a problem if you were to use it every day, it could erode the teeth, but is not necessarily abrasive to the teeth. It is the acidity of the salt water that could eat away and soften the enamel on the teeth making them more susceptible to wearing, chipping and cavities.

How does rinsing with salt water compare to a mouthwash?

A mouthwash is a bit more PH neutral than salt water but there is a different problem with mouthwashes. Many mouthwashes have alcohol in them – some as much as 20%, which is a big problem, and that increases the risk of mouth or oral cancer, which is a growing problem in Australia.

I only ever recommend two mouth rinses – one is Colgate NeutraFluor 500, which is useful for people with concerns of tooth decay. It is useful if you’ve had tooth decay in the past. It is also useful if you are over 40+ and have some gum recession – when the gums recede, the exposed part of the tooth where there is no enamel decays 8 times quicker than if it wasn’t exposed.

Brushing your teeth is a necessary part of a healthy dental routine.For someone who’s trying to protect from decay, or is susceptible to gum problems, where they need a chlorhexidine or a bacterial mouth rinse, really the best one by far is called Curasept. The reason it’s so good is that it won’t stain the teeth like many other chlorhexidine mouth rinses.

Do you recommend using mouth washes daily?

The chlorhexidine mouthwashes have a residual effect, so using it for 2 weeks and then stopping for 3 months is as good as using it every day.

The only mouthwash we recommend you use every day is one with fluoride.

How about off-the-shelf mouthwashes?

Many of the ones you can buy in the supermarket don’t do much or they have side effects that you don’t want, such as the presence of alcohol which, as mentioned increases the risk of mouth or oral cancer.

Before you spend your money, do your research or consult with your dentist about what is best used (if any at all) for your own personal situation.

Got a question for the dentist? Ask here >

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