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Good oral hygiene is fundamental to overall health, and while brushing and flossing serve as the foundation of a sound oral-care routine, incorporating mouthwash can offer additional benefits that keep your teeth healthy and beautiful. It can be used throughout the day as a way to rinse, refresh breath and neutralize bad bacteria or it can be incorporated into your regular morning or night routine. However, many people often wonder about where it fits in that routine — do you use mouthwash before or after brushing?

When to Use Mouthwash

The American Dental Association (ADA) gives us a classic non-answer: it depends.

Mayo Clinic recommends using mouthwash after brushing, which can help wash away any debris that brushing may have missed. However, some dentists recommend using mouthwash before brushing to loosen plaque and make brushing more effective.

The ADA suggests following the order indicated by your mouthwash’s packaging, as the ideal timing for use depends mainly on the active ingredients in both your mouthwash and toothpaste.

Why the Timing Matters

Experts are divided on whether you use mouthwash before or after brushing — so does the timing matter?

Actually, yes!

And the reason why comes down to the active ingredients in your oral-care products — namely, fluoride.

Using mouthwash after brushing with fluoride toothpaste can rinse away the toothpaste’s active ingredients, making your toothpaste less effective at protecting your teeth. However, if you’re using a mouthwash with fluoride, using it after brushing will allow the fluoride to remain on your teeth longer.

Bottom line?

Use whatever product contains fluoride last in your oral-care routine. But what if both your toothpaste and mouthwash have fluoride? In that case, most experts agree it comes down to personal preference. Use mouthwash before brushing to help soften and dislodge plaque or for an additional layer of protection.

Benefits of Using Mouthwash

Mouthwash can provide several benefits as part of your oral care routine, including:

1. Neutralizing Bad Bacteria

Mouthwash contains ingredients that can help eliminate harmful bacteria in the mouth.

2. Fighting Bad Breath

Mouthwash can rinse away bacteria and food particles that cause bad breath.

3. Preventing Plaque Build-Up

Some mouthwashes contain ingredients like zinc citrate, which reduces bacteria's ability to produce sticky substances, preventing plaque from forming on teeth.

4. Protecting Gums

Mouthwash with antiseptic and anti-inflammatory ingredients lowers harmful bacteria and inflammation in the gums, protecting against gum diseases.

5. Delivering Fluoride

Fluoride mouthwash strengthens tooth enamel, reverses early decay, and helps prevent cavities from forming.

6. Neutralizing Acids

A healthy mouth should have a pH 6.5 - 7.5.  Certain mouthwashes can help balance your pH by neutralizing mouth acids, which is especially good for those with sensitive teeth and for preventing dental erosion.

7. Soothing Mouth Ulcers

Mouthwash with a mild formula can also soothe mouth ulcers and small sores by cleaning the area and preventing infections.

How to Use Your Mouthwash Correctly

When using mouthwash, it's important to swish it around so it reaches all areas of your mouth, including between teeth and below the gum line, where bacteria can hide. To make the most of your mouthwash, follow these tips:

Use the Right Amount

Check the instructions on the mouthwash bottle for recommended usage amounts. Using too much or too little may affect its effectiveness. 

Swish, Don't Swallow

Pour the recommended amount of mouthwash into a cup and swish it around in your mouth for the designated time. Be sure not to swallow the mouthwash, as it may contain ingredients not meant to be ingested.

Don't Rinse Immediately

Avoid rinsing your mouth with water or any other liquid immediately after using mouthwash. Allow the mouthwash to remain in your mouth for the recommended time to let the active ingredients work.

Follow the Recommended Frequency

Most mouthwashes are designed for daily use, while others may have specific usage instructions. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for optimal results.

Finding the Right Mouthwash

With a wide variety of mouthwashes available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. Consider the following factors when selecting a mouthwash:

Consult Your Dentist

Your dentist can provide recommendations based on your specific oral health needs, such as preventing cavities, reducing plaque, or addressing gum problems.

Look for Key Ingredients

Different mouthwashes contain active ingredients targeting specific oral health concerns. For example, if you want to fight harmful bacteria and bad breath, look for mouthwashes with ingredients like nano-silver, zinc and hydrogen peroxide.

Read Product Labels

Carefully read the labels and instructions on the mouthwash products you are considering. Pay attention to recommended usage, potential side effects and any precautions or contraindications mentioned.

Personal Preference

Finally, consider your personal preferences regarding taste, texture and sensation. Mouthwashes come in various flavors and formulations, so choose one that you know you’ll want to use consistently.

Related Oral Care Tips

While using mouthwash is beneficial, it should not replace brushing and flossing. Here are some related tips for a comprehensive oral-care routine:

  • Brush twice daily: Use fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean your teeth thoroughly.
  • Floss daily: Clean between your teeth using dental floss or interdental brushes to remove plaque and food particles.
  • Visit your dentist regularly: Schedule dental check-ups and professional cleanings to maintain optimal oral health and catch any issues early.
  • Maintain a healthy diet: Limit sugary and acidic foods and beverages, which can contribute to tooth decay and gum problems.

Whether you swish before or after brushing and flossing, using mouthwash as part of your oral care routine can benefit your dental health. Choosing the right mouthwash, following proper usage guidelines, and maintaining a comprehensive oral care routine can promote fresher breath, healthier gums, and a brighter smile.

Looking for a clean, plant-based mouthwash?

View Our Immunity Rinse Mouthwash 

This page was written or reviewed for accuracy by the Twice Team. Learn more about us.