Dentistry
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Dentists recommend mouthwash as part of a complete at-home oral health routine.

But there are hundreds of different options. And most of them have ingredients that the average person will never recognize. 

This article will clear up the differences between antibacterial, antiseptic, and antimicrobial mouthwashes. We’ll also provide our evidence-based recommendations on the best over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial mouthwashes.

Everything We Recommend

Best for Bad BreathCrest Pro-Health Intense Mouthwash with CPC

Best for Bad Breath (Alcohol-Free) CloSYS Ultra Sensitive Mouthwash

Best for Plaque and GingivitisTheraBreath Healthy Gums

First, the American Dental Association (ADA) states that there are two main types of mouthwash:

  • Cosmetic mouthwash
  • Therapeutic mouthwash

Cosmetic mouthwashes are meant to temporarily reduce bad breath and leave a pleasant taste in your mouth. But they don’t address any other issues.

Therapeutic mouthwashes help reduce or control plaque, gingivitis, bad breath, and/or tooth decay.

Antibacterial vs. Antiseptic vs. Antimicrobial Mouthwash

According to Dr. Khushbu Aggarwal, one of NewMouth’s in-house dentists, therapeutic mouthwashes can be classified as antibacterial, antiseptic, or antimicrobial.

Antibacterial (antibiotic) mouthwashes target specific bacteria. They are usually used to help fight active infections, such as gingivitis. Antibacterial mouthwashes work by reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth. 

In contrast, antiseptic and antimicrobial mouthwashes target a variety of microbes, says Dr. Aggarwal. These products attack spores, fungi, and viruses, in addition to bacteria. They are usually used to reduce the risk of infection after a dental procedure.  

Who Should Use Antibacterial Mouthwash?

Antibacterial or antibiotic agents slow, kill, or inactivate specific types of bacteria. They are used to treat active infections in your body.

Antibacterial mouthwash can target the bacteria that cause gingivitis. 

In order to be effective, antibacterial mouthwashes must be used in addition to brushing and flossing.

Antibacterial mouthwash is available over-the-counter and via prescription.

When to See a Dentist

Your dentist can help determine the best type of mouthwash for you based on your oral health. Ask them for recommendations at one of your check-ups and cleanings.

It is important to visit your dentist immediately if you have foul breath, gum pain, or heavy plaque buildup.

Ingredients to Look for

The active ingredients you want in your mouthwash depend on the cause of your condition. 

See your dentist for the best and most personalized mouthwash recommendation.

Here are common ingredients in antibacterial mouthwashes used to treat specific conditions.

Bad Breath:

  • Chlorhexidine
  • Chlorine dioxide
  • Cetylpyridinium chloride
  • Essential oils (menthol, thymol, eucalyptol, etc.)
  • Zinc salts
  • Ketone
  • Terpene
  • Ionone

Plaque and Gingivitis:

  • Cetylpyridinium chloride
  • Chlorhexidine
  • Essential oils

The combination of chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium chloride, and zinc lactate can reduce bad breath. But long-term use can stain the teeth, tongue, and dental restorations.

3 Best Antibacterial Mouthwashes

Here are three of the best antibacterial mouthwashes available:

Crest Pro Health Intense Mouthwash with CPC

Crest Pro-Health Intense Mouthwash with CPC

Best for Bad Breath

This product has not received the ADA seal of approval, but is an antibacterial mouthrinse that contains cetylpyridinium chloride, which is known to help combat bad breath. 

CloSYS Ultra Sensitive Mouthwash

CloSYS Ultra Sensitive Mouthwash

Best for Bad Breath (Alcohol-Free)

This product has the ADA seal of acceptance, meaning that it has been scientifically evaluated by independent experts to be safe and effective. 

According to Dr. Aggarwal, it also contains chlorine dioxide, which is known to help combat bad breath. The product is also alcohol free, so it is less likely to cause a burning sensation and/or dry out the mouth. 

3) Therabreath Healthy Gums

TheraBreath Healthy Gums Periodontist Formulated Oral Rinse

Therabreath Healthy Gums

Best for Plaque and Gingivitis

This product has not received the ADA seal of acceptance. However, it is an antibacterial mouthrinse that contains cetylpyridinium chloride, which is known to help combat bad breath, says Dr. Aggarwal.

Last updated on May 6, 2022
5 Sources Cited
Last updated on May 6, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Department of Scientific Information, ADA Science Institute. “Mouthrinse (Mouthwash).” American Dental Association, 1 Dec. 2021. 
  2. Aydin, Murat, and Mustafa Dericl. “Instant and Freshness Effect of Mouth Rinses on Type 1 (Oral) Halitosis.” Acta Odontologica Latinoamericana : AOL, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2019. 
  3. Kamolnarumeth, Kamolchanok, et al. “Effect of Mixed Chlorhexidine and Hydrogen Peroxide Mouthrinses on Developing Plaque and Stain in Gingivitis Patients: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” SpringerLink, Clinical Oral Investigations, 5 Aug. 2020. 
  4. Su, Chen-Ying, et al. “Characteristics of an Alternative Antibacterial Biomaterial for Mouthwash in the Absence of Alcohol.” Elsevier, Journal of Dental Sciences, 22 Mar. 2019. 
  5. Tartaglia, Gianluca M., and Santosh Kumar Tadakamadla. “Adverse Events Associated with Home Use of Mouthrinses: a Systematic Review.” SAGE Journals, Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety, 2019. 
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